The Mind Of The South, Part Ii

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THE PLANK DECEMBER 17, 2008

The Mind Of The South, Part Ii

A few weeks ago I blogged
about a county-by-county national
map
in the New York Times showing
that large sections of the South, particularly the Deep South, had voted
further to the left this election than the last (though the Times took it to show the opposite, and
to be fair the Mid-South--Tennessee and Arkansas, mostly--tilted further
right). My conclusion was that the South, far from being left behind, actually
looked more like the rest of the country.

A
few people
countered by saying that the bluish hue of Alabama,
Mississippi,
and other states was due almost completely to higher minority turnout. A fair
point, though I don’t know what that ultimately means for my argument--after all,
southern blacks are southerners, too. But the point is taken: Biracial
coalitions supposedly cohered in the rest of the country, while racial division
defined the South.

 

However, a new analysis by two MIT political scientists in
the Boston
Review
shows that, in fact, Obama’s win was not at all the result of
biracial coalitions, but almost wholly the result of an outpouring of minority
voters:

 

The percentage of blacks voting for the
Democratic presidential candidate rose from 88 percent in 2004 to 95 percent in
2008; the percentage of Hispanics voting for the Democrats rose from 56 percent
in 2004 to 67 percent in 2008--swings of 7 and 11 percent. White voters, the
largest racial group, increased their support of the Democratic candidate by
just 2 percentage points, from 41 percent for Kerry to 43 percent for Obama. … had
Blacks and Hispanics voted Democratic in 2008 at the rates they had in 2004
while whites cast 43 percent of their vote for Obama, McCain would have won.

 

In other words, much of the rest of the country, like those Alabama and Mississippi
counties, saw a significant increase in racially polarized voting. “Racial
polarization in American voting patterns (the difference between black support
for Democrats and white support for Democrats) was the highest it has been
since the 1984 election,” the authors, Stephen Ansolabehere and Charles Stewart
III, conclude.

 

They are careful to note that such results shouldn’t
diminish this historic moment: Ironically, Obama’s “victory, built upon the
highest degree of racial polarization seen in many years, has ushered in a
period of racial good feelings.” But it does mean that, in fact, Alabama may look more like the rest of America than the rest of America likes
to admit.

 

--Clay Risen

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