Race and the Election

I wrote recently about population density and its relationship to voting behaviors. In the 2012 election, high population density correlated with votes for Obama, while low density correlated with votes for Romney.

Others observed that red states have more traffic fatalities than blue states. This is fairly easy to explain, as red states are lower density than blue states and people necessarily spend more time in cars than in the cities of blue states.

Some suggested that race is more important and proposed some version of “white people vote for white people, black people vote for black people” as the simpler explanation. But this notion has always struck me as simplistic.

So I decided to dig in to voting behaviors by examining racial composition and the 2012 election results at the county level.


(click to enlarge)

Any significant level of diversity seems to trigger liberal voting behavior. At 9% Hispanic population (or just 3% Asian population), people vote blue. Think about that for a second… if your county has just a 3% Asian population, it most likely voted Democratic.

So Do People Vote by Race?

The data show that when the percentage of black population exceeds 39%, Obama receives the bulk of the votes. This would indicate that yes, black people do often vote for black people, which by itself is not that informative. But Asians and Hispanics also apparently vote for black people as well.

Above about 55% white population, counties overwhelmingly voted for Romney. But up to 45% white population, votes went to Obama.

The real drivers seem to be density and diversity. Density (such as found in cities) corresponds with diversity. Diversity leads to progressive voting behavior.

Identity Politics

It’s simplistic to think that it’s all about identity. White voters didn’t all vote for Romney, black voters didn’t all vote for Obama, and Hispanic and Asian candidates overwhelmingly supported Obama. There is no particular reason to think that an Hispanic Republican candidate can win by running on the same old platform.

To succeed, both parties need to run candidates that will appeal to the population in America’s increasingly diverse and dense cities.

Measuring Racism

Politics is a complicated subject — substantially moreso than is demonstrated by most bloggers intent on venting their spleens or developing their own demagogic brands.

However, as our nation is enveloped in one of the most important but mind-bogglingly vacuous elections the world has ever seen, a couple of facts stand out.

It’s been widely reported that in a year that should be extremely pro-Democratic (due to the widespread failures of the last eight years), a democratic candidate should be leading by about ten percentage points right about now.

In fact, we see that the election is very tight indeed, with McCain and Obama splitting the vote in a statistical dead heat. To be fair, national polls do not tell the whole story. The electoral college results (and the swing states) will determine the winner. However, based on this set of statistics we can do some simple math to deduce the effect of race on this election.

According to this report from the US Census Bureau, approximately 125 Million people voted in the 2004 election, up from 110 Million in 2000 and 105 Million in 1996, respectively.

In the current election, poll numbers have been running approximately as follows: 46% McCain, 46% Obama, with the remainder going to third party candidates.

Pundits have suggested that were the Democratic candidate white, and was named something like James K. Watson, the poll numbers would be more like 51% Watson, 42% McCain. This is not what we are seeing.

So, let’s assume that the 2008 voter turnout will be something like 135 Million. If the election were held today, current polling figures would suggest 62.1M votes for Obama and 62.1M votes for McCain.

If we hold, instead, our theoretical election with McCain (white) vs. Watson (white), historical evidence would suggest that Watson would receive approximately 68.9M votes, while McCain would receive approximately 56.7M votes.

This suggests that roughly 6.8 Million (difference between 62.1M Obama and 68.9M Watson) registered voters in this country, roughly 5% of all voters and 3% of citizens, are motivated by racism or xenophobia in some form.

According to the same census report, there were another 16.4 Million registered non-voters in 2004. And there were 71.3 Million citizens who were not registered to vote in 2004. If we apply the same percentages to our 135 Million voter figure for 2008, it breaks down as follows:

I’m quite aware that issues surrounding race, and people’s perception of it, are quite sensitive. ┬áNo one likes to be called a racist, and certainly no one likes to be a victim of it either.

However, there is an elephant (no pun intended) in the room in this election, and it may help to identify it and measure it.

Undoubtedly, there are those who would make an argument that it is not racism that is keeping this election as tight as it is, but that it is instead due to legitimate policy disagreements with the Democratic platform. There are those who will be insulted at the notion that racism could possibly be an issue in this election. To those people, I suggest that they are either a) part of the non-racist voting majority, or b) being disingenuous.

This week, National Public Radio ran a piece on race in the election wherein they interviewed a woman from Pennsylvania who suspected Obama was a Muslim, and that the only way you “stopped being a Muslim” was to be “dead,” and that she “couldn’t put her finger on it, but there was something about him she just didn’t trust.” The interviewer asked whether it mattered that Obama has repeatedly denied being a Muslim and the response was that, “it just didn’t matter, she didn’t trust him.”

This, unfortunately, is the kind of racism I’m talking about. It’s an irrational fear of the other — perhaps more accurately described as xenophobia — but it’s racism nonetheless in this case, and our country deserves better than to be bogged down in another 50 years of race politics.

Slavery is surely the original sin of this country, and if we are not careful, the racial issues that have been left in its wake may prove to be the undoing of the free world. It’s time to vote based on the issues, not based on gut “instincts,” not based on “who you’d rather have a beer with,” or any other irrational motivation that may have been passed to you by family or culture. America, it’s time to rise up and do the right thing.