Friday, April 14, 2006

Forthcoming Study: White Voters and Black Candidates

An item by Washington Post columnist Richard Morin (who I didn't know before running across a link in Slate's Today's Papers) may have implications for Ohio’s gubernatorial race. It concerns a forthcoming paper by Ebonya Washington at Yale. According to Morin:

In fact, white Republicans nationally are 25 percentage points more likely on
average to vote for the Democratic senatorial candidate when the GOP hopeful is
black[.]
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White independents are similarly inclined to vote for the white Democrat when there's a black Republican running, according to her study of congressional and gubernatorial voting patterns between 1982 and 2000, including five Senate races in which the Republican nominee was black.
Before you don your Mantle of Moral Superiority, White Democrat Person, note also:
Democrats also desert their party when its candidate is black, Washington found.
In House races, white Democrats are 38 percentage points less likely to vote
Democratic if their candidate is black.

Blogging about race and politics can be dicey. It’s not Give an Award for the Blackest Sorority Member dicey, but dicey nonetheless.

Regardless, let me raise a few questions. This blurb of a column – actually one-third of a column – doesn’t say whether the data are disaggregated by region. In English – is the effect more pronounced in the South? I would wonder especially with regard to the Democrat effect. There are, reportedly, still clutches on Dixiecrats who didn't jump ship in the 80s. If the effect is sharper in the South, it may have sterner implications for J. Ken Blackwell than, say Barbara Sykes. J.Ken’s base in Southern Ohio which has a fair amount of, well, southiness to it. Southern Ohio is basically an Appalachian state.

Sykes’ base is in northern, especially Northeastern Ohio. We have our southernish charm here – that canard about Akron being the capital of West Virginia? Not so far off. But the white Democrats tend more toward the bland, Midwestern, farmer-descendent variety like yours truly.

A second question I would have – and one that potentially gets White America off the hook a little – is whether the study in some why controlled for the ideology of the candidate. As I was thinking about this article it occurred to me that African American candidates of either party tend to run on the far edges of their respective wings. I’ve been racking my brain, but Barak Obama and Colin Powell are the only Black national political figures who can actually reach across the aisle and shake hands. Everyone else seems on one extreme or another.

It would make sense that moderates Whites might cross party lines in favor of a more moderate candidate on the other side than the extremist their party nominated. That’s certainly what those Liberals who want the wingnuts to nominate Blackwell are hoping for.

It’s supremely depressing to think that this still happens. Not that I thought racism had gone away. But I thought that, because overt expressions of it now earn social opprobrium, people are less likely to engage in consciously racist acts. In fact, I had shared with Subodh Chandra my theory of The Good Minority – that a fair number of white people who harbor consciously racist thoughts feel sufficiently guilty that they search for Good Minorities to support, so that their dislike of other people of color becomes in their minds all about how those people are acting and not how they are.

My point to Subodh was that his ethnicity may actually be an asset because Indians are the very definition of a Good Minority. Ken Blackwell, I thought, benefits from a Good Minority effect. This research casts that theory into question – not the first time I had a perfectly good theory run aground on the shoals of actual data. And of course we need to see more details about the study to be able to talk seriously about what it means.

In the meantime, it is, as I said, depressing to think that this still happens. More depressing still to think that, come November, I may be rooting for it to happen.

3 comments:

proud akron appalachian said...

Regardless, let me raise a few questions. This blurb of a column – actually one-third of a column – doesn’t say whether the data are disaggregated by region. In English – is the effect more pronounced in the South? I would wonder especially with regard to the Democrat effect. There are, reportedly, still clutches on Dixiecrats who didn't jump ship in the 80s. If the effect is sharper in the South, it may have sterner implications for J. Ken Blackwell than, say Barbara Sykes. J.Ken’s base in Southern Ohio which has a fair amount of, well, southiness to it. Southern Ohio is basically an Appalachian state.

Sykes’ base is in northern, especially Northeastern Ohio. We have our southernish charm here – that canard about Akron being the capital of West Virginia? Not so far off. But the white Democrats tend more toward the bland, Midwestern, farmer-descendent variety like yours truly.

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for a progressive you're showing pretty bigoted feelings towards appalachians....but we're all used to it...

Pho said...

An excellent point, PAA, and one I have wrestled with most of my life. In my home town we had, maybe, 20 Black families out of 20,000 people. The poor folks in town -- the people literally on the Wrong Side of the Tracks -- were Appalacian transplants. So I grew up with ongoing contact with the culture of the Appalacian diaspora. I've done a little study of the region since, though not enough to glean more than general impressions.

The kids I grew up with were almost uniformly stone racist. As a kid raised to think that racism was one of the worst sins, this was always a real point of friction for me. But, as you point out, assuming an entire identifiable group is biggoted is its own form of bigotry. On the other other hand, when talking about the voting trends of the group as a whole, ignoring the racism in that culture becomes an elephant in the room.

When I meet someone with a West Virginia accent, I do my best not to make the assumption that that person is racist. It's not easy because the stereotype was embedded in me very early on, but I make the effort. Sometimes -- like a Friday night when I really should be in bed -- I don't do as well as others being respectful.

But I'm going to make the point that white people from the South in general and Appalacia in particular (tip: don't equate Appalacia with the South in front of a Southerner if you want to avoid a fight), are more likely than the average American to vote against a Black candidate. Just like I'll make the point that Black voters are more likely to vote for a Black candidate. Those are the facts as I understand them.

Finally, I should acknowledge that there was plenty of prejudice among the midwest farm boys I grew up with. It just seems to me not to be as deep and I don't hear as much of it now.

As I said, talking about race is difficult. It's difficult both ways.

proud akron appalachian said...

ignoring the racism in that culture becomes an elephant in the room.

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it's not that we're "racist"....it's that we've been killed exploited and dehumanized by every non appalachian in american history....and we have no political power to be racist...we have no economic power to be racist......and when you've been the victim of racism your entire life...you tend to be bigoted yourself....you also know that in akron ohio and most rustbelt cities before the civil rights movement we had the same exact rights as a black man in the south...even today the educational and economic disparites are the largest in the nation and on the same level as of native americans.....also alot of us are bigots because everytime we hear about how bigotry is wrong...then they start saying things about us....like "those inbred hillbilly racists"......"those stupid hillbillies"or "those poor white trash".....i and other appalachians in akron have been denied an education in these schools for no other reason than having a different culture and dialect

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But I'm going to make the point that white people from the South in general and Appalacia in particular (tip: don't equate Appalacia with the South in front of a Southerner if you want to avoid a fight),

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because the flatlanders are no different than midwesterners......but thank god there's good people out there....but i'm a bitter person and i try hard to fight that....

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are more likely than the average American to vote against a Black candidate.

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because most black democrats are racist....why should i vote for someone who calls me racial slurs ? would you ? no not at all....

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As I said, talking about race is difficult. It's difficult both ways.

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you're right man...and btw you seem like a good guy and i enjoy your blog....finally glad to hear a voice from akron on the net lol seems like ain't nobody here has the net