Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Mississippification & Obama

I coined the term "Mississippification" after the 2000 election to describe a trend observable by comparing exit polls, census data and the vote totals. Liberal academic Thomas Schaller sees the same thing:
Two pervasive and persistent myths about racial voting in the modern South are behind the notion that Mr. Obama might win in places like Georgia, North Carolina and Mississippi.
The first myth is that African-American turnout in the South is low. Black voters are actually well represented in the Southern electorate. . . .
The second myth is that Democratic presidential candidates fare better in Southern states that have large numbers of African-Americans. In fact, the reverse is true, because the more blacks there are in a Southern state, the more likely the white voters are to vote Republican.
It should be noted that this trend applies generally nationwide. Even in Northern states, the larger the black population, the more heavily the white vote tends to shift toward Republicans.

I dubbed this phenomenon "Mississippification" based on the fact that Mississppi has the largest percentage black population of any state (37%), but while Al Gore got more than 90% of the black vote in Mississippi, George Bush got nearly 90% of the white vote and thus won the state with 57% of the total. (CNN no longer has the 2000 exit polls online, but they showed that whites in Mississippi voted Republican at a higher level than the white population of any other state.)

Schaller correctly concludes that it is highly unlikely that Obama is going to de-"Mississippify" the vote in the South. To which I would add, or anywhere else.

UPDATE: Dan Riehl: "the O.J. verdict in reverse"?

UPDATE II: Liberal blogger Booman:
Schaller doesn't consider any benefit that Obama may have derived from the organization he did in the state during the primary. He doesn't discuss the competitive senate race between Roger Wicker and former governor Ronnie Musgrove. . . .
Schaller's analysis takes no account of Obama's superior political skills that far outrun what John Kerry had to offer.
Booman: It's Mississippi, OK? Have you ever been to Mississippi? All the "skills" and "organization" on the planet couldn't elect a liberal Democrat from Chicago in Mississippi, even if the Chicago Democrat was a white guy named Smith.

And since you mention the Senate race, Booman: What do you want to bet that the Musgrove campaign is begging Obama not to come to Mississippi? Heck, every time the TV news shows Obama's face, Musgrove loses a few more voters. It's Mississippi, I repeat. The past ain't dead there. It ain't even the past.

UPDATE: Obama's at 36% in neighboring Louisiana. Does Booman suppose that Mary Landrieu, now in the fight of her life, wants Obama to come in to campaign for her? What does Booman imagine would be the effect of that photo-op?


  1. While true in the historical context of the post, broadly stating that the higher the number of African-Americans, the more GOP-leaning the white voters is simplistic. As GA and MS become majority non-white in the next 10-20 years it matters less how white voters react to the racial dynamic in their county or region. We have already seen the beginnings of a rapid deceleration of GOP-strength in Texas as that state has become majority-minority two years ago. There are also a whole lot of white West Tennesseans that disprove the rule that as the black population rises the whites get more GOP-friendly. The simple fact is that if black voters in Mississippi came anywhere near matching their 37% of the overall population, as the percentage of voters at the polls on election day, then the threshold of white votes that Obama would need is fairly small (approximately 20% of white voters, depending on the Barr effect in MS). More than in past elections this one will be turnout-driven and motivationally-challenged Republicans may make MS, LA, GA, NC, and even in some scenarios SC more competitive than in previous elections. Obama may win those states, he may not, but fifteen point Southern blowouts don’t seem as likely this cycle.

  2. In reply to the anonymous commenter: No one can say exactly what will happen Nov. 4. All that is possible is to suggest that recent trends will probably hold true in the future.

    I don't know what's the basis of your claim that white West Tennesseans disprove the Missippification thesis.

    The population of Tennessee is 17% black, and Bush got 57% of the vote in Tennessee in 2004. Whites in Tennessee voted 84% for Bush, and blacks in Tennessee voted 91% for Kerry according to exit polls. The population of West Tennessee's Shelby County is 52% black, yet John Kerry got only 57% of the vote in Shelby County.

    You can do the math and come up with your own estimates, but I think it is clear that an extremely high percentage of whites in Shelby County voted for Bush -- a very Mississipified result.

  3. The exit polls in TN show that whites made up 84% of the electorate and Bush beat Kerry (65-34). Thus, for accuracy, it would be wrong to say that 80% of whites voted for Bush implying a 60 point gap. The reality is a 30-point gap. Not to deny your central premise, but simply to correct a factual innacuracy.

  4. Anonymous:

    "The simple fact is that if black voters in Mississippi came anywhere near matching their 37% of the overall population, as the percentage of voters at the polls on election day, then the threshold of white votes that Obama would need is fairly small (approximately 20% of white voters, depending on the Barr effect in MS)."

    No kidding? Really? If you had actually bothered to read the linked NYT article, you would have seen this:

    "For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Mr. Obama could increase black turnout in Mississippi to 39 percent of the statewide electorate, up from 34 percent in 2004, according to exit polls. And let’s assume that Mr. Obama will win 95 percent of those voters, up from the 90 percent who voted for Mr. Kerry four years ago.

    "If that happened, the black vote would yield Mr. Obama 37 percent of Mississippi’s statewide votes. To get the last 13 percent he needs for a majority, Mr. Obama would need to persuade a mere 21 percent of white voters in Mississippi to support him. Sounds easy, right?

    "But only 14 percent of white voters in the state supported Mr. Kerry. Mr. Obama would need to increase that number by 7 percentage points — a 50 percent increase. Mr. Obama struggled to attract white Democrats in states like Ohio and South Dakota. It strains credulity to believe that he will attract three white voters in Mississippi for every two that Mr. Kerry did."

    Get it now, Anonymous? Yeah, Obama would "only" have to take about 20% of the white vote to win Mississippi, but he won't get that 20%, unless he is somehow 50% more popular with white voters than Kerry was. And I see no reason whatsoever to believe that this is the case.

    "Obama may win those states, he may not. . "
    Actually, o unknown one, he won't.

    But the the "meme" of Obama "changing the map" is one that is near and dear to the hearts of all Obama supporters, so I know it's hard for you to face facts and admit it.