Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Partial Truths, Partial Lies

What's missing from Abigail and Steven Thernstrom's Wall Street Journal OP Ed piece about how the Obama victory proves that "the myth of racist white voters was destroyed by this year's presidential election." ("Racial Gerrymandering Is Unnecessary") You have to poke and pry and pick at the article before you notice it:

So what happened to all those "racists" or "rednecks" that John Murtha spoke of so recently? If there had been that many of them, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Virginia and Florida would have gone the other way, and we would have a President-elect McCain today. Racism is the Sherlock Holmes dog that did not bark in the night.

Consider Iowa, with only a miniscule African-American population. The 5% of voters who said race was the most important factor in their choice of whom to vote for backed Mr. Obama 54% to 45%. Or consider Minnesota and Wisconsin, also overwhelmingly white, where Mr. Obama's lead was 18% and 21% respectively among the 5% to 7% of voters who made race their highest priority.

But wait, you ask yourself... where's the deep South? Sure, the writers mention Virginia, a border state with a large, affluent, well educated population of D.C. commuters. But why no mention of South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama? Maybe that's because, as this New York Times piece demonstrates, racial prejudice is alive and well in the deep South, where only 1 in 10 white voters polled for Obama.
Here in Alabama, where Mr. McCain won 60.4 percent of the vote in his best Southern showing, he had the support of nearly 9 in 10 whites, according to exit polls, a figure comparable to other Southern states. Alabama analysts pointed to the persistence of traditional white Southern attitudes on race as the deciding factor in Mr. McCain’s strong margin. Mr. Obama won in Jefferson County, which includes the city of Birmingham, and in the Black Belt, but he made few inroads elsewhere.
You can see results of Exit Polls by visiting CNN's exit poll database. Selecting state by state you see, for instance, that just 10% of white Alabamans voted for Obama. Mississippi was a tad better, with 11% favoring Obama. Lousiana saw 14% of White voters favoring Obama. Contrast this with a state like Vermont, where 68% of whites voted for Obama and it's difficult to not see a difference in racial attitudes in play. Sure, Alabama is much more conservative than Vermont, but it's not a much more conservative than Utah (Utah went 63/34 for McCain, whereas Alabama went 60/40) and in Utah 31% of whites voted for Obama.

One of the big mistakes to take away from Obama's election is the notion that we've entered some sort of post-racial golden age in America. That's simply not the case. There are tremendous regional variations in racial attitudes, and in some parts of the country, racist attitudes seem as deeply ingrained as ever. There is still much work to be done to ensure there is equality of treatment among the races in this country, that a black man who fills out a job application is considered in the same light and by the same criteria as a white candidate.

But there is a ray of hope. Attitudes are changing. Even in Alabama white youth are more likely to vote for a black presidential candidate than their fathers. Sure it's not by much: 13% vs. 9%, but it's a start. And in Mississippi, fully 18% of of Whites aged 18-29 went for Obama, almost double the 10% of voters aged 45-64 who did.

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