Racism (or Sexism) At the Margins

I don’t know if 15% of the electorate will vote against Sen. Obama because of the color his skin, as some have asserted. Or, for that matter, if a similar proportion of the total electorate would vote against Sen. Clinton because of her gender. It wouldn’t need to be that high to make this a close election.

In 2004 John Kerry carried the following states by less than 5% of the vote: Wisconsin (.38%), New Hampshire (1.37%), Pennsylvania (2.50%), Michigan (3.42%), Minnesota (3.48%), Oregon (4.16%). He also carried the following states by less than 10% of the vote: New Jersey (6.68%), Washington (7.18%), Delaware (7.60%), Hawaii (8.75%), Maine (8.99%), California (9.95%).

Consequently, if John McCain can carry the states that George W. Bush did in 2004 and if just 5% of the voters in any of the six states that Kerry carried by less than 5% or 10% of the voters in any the six states that Kerry carried by less than 10% vote against Sen. Obama because of his black African Kenyan father or Sen. Clinton because of her gender, it will provide a safety margin for a McCain victory in November.

My point is not that Obama can’t win or that Clinton can’t win. I think that each of them could conceivably win in November and, all other things being equal, matters like the situation in Iraq, the economy, the Bush record, and a Republican having held the White House for the last 8 years all point to a Democrat being elected in November. But, barring unforeseen circumstances, I believe it will be very close and a quick look at the numbers tells you why. What happens at the margins will matter.

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. Bithead says:

    Well, first of all, we need to focus on which election we’re talking about. I say that beacuse there has been, and continues to be, today, a lot of discussion that this is a primary centering itself on race and gender. Which, of itself is interesting, because these are Democrats we’re talking about… people who, we’ve been told until recently are above racism and sexism.

    That point made, let’s assume you’re talking, as I suspect, about the general election. On what basis do we assume that the general is going to be any more about race and gender, than the primary was? (No, Dave, this is not an accusation agaisnt you, just a comment on the different perceptions I see between the primary and the GE)

  2. Hal says:

    With all due respect, Dave, what you’re doing is looking out over a calm sea and basing your judgements on that. The battle for the white house hasn’t even begun in earnest and McCain has mount everest to climb. The storm will start soon enough, and then we’ll see how things look from that vantage point.

    Until then, there really isn’t much you can say about the general.

  3. yetanotherjohn says:

    I agree with the basic sentiment of the post, but I am not sure I follow your math. I would point out that the question of age is likely to also have potentially a similar impact.

    First, the question should be is the 15% (or whatever) who won’t vote for a candidate because of a non-character attribute (race, gender, age) coming from people who wouldn’t vote for them anyway?

    Second, assume that there is a 5% of the total state voters (or whatever number) that voted for the “opposite side” in 2004 but are swayed by the non-character attribute (race, gender age) to vote in the other direction in 2008. You would only need 2.5%+1 or less to swing the less than 5% states and 5%+1 or less to swing the 10% states. In other words, if a state went for Kerry by a margin of 2% (e.g. 51% to 49%) in 2004, then a 1%+1 swing would move it to 50%+1 for McCain to 50%-1 for the democrat.

    For completeness, here are the states that went for Bush in 2004 by small margins. Iowa (0.67%), New Mexico (0.79%), Ohio (2.11%), Nevada (2.59%), Colorado (4.67%), Florida (5.01%), Missouri (7.2%), Virginia (8.2%) and Arkansas (9.76%).

    Kerry got 68 EV by less than 5% and 92 EV by 5% to 10%. Bush in 2004 got 46 EV by less than 5% and 57 EV by 5% to 10%.

    And of course there are a lot of other factors. At this point, I don’t see McCain picking of California (which would be a death knell for the democrats), but I do see Hillary picking off Arkansas, even though they had similar margins.

    I could imagine McCain picking off Pennsylvania against Obama, but not against Hillary. So who is running will probably impact this more than voter non-character preferences.

  4. floyd says:

    It is obvious that gender is a net plus for Clinton.
    There are large numbers of women who openly see her gender as her only important qualification.
    It is clear that this number far exceeds the number of total voters who would vote against her because of gender.
    If she loses,It will not be because of gender.
    America brags of feminism, have you ever even heard of a masculist?

    [The spell check actually denies that the word “Masculist” even exists!][lol]

  5. bains says:

    I don’t know if 15% of the electorate will vote against Sen. Obama because of the color his skin…

    Well it is likely that 30% will not vote for someone if s/he has a D after their name, and similarly a different 30% wont vote for a man or woman of any race if there is a R after the name. I’d suggest that more likely, there is a lot of unnecessary handwringing ( manufacturing outrage perhaps) going on.