Whites Voted For Obama, Proving They’re Racist!

Larry Bartels examines the voting behavior of white Americans on Election Day and finds that, as he expected, we were very, very racist:

According to the exit polls, Obama outpolled the previous Democratic nominee, John Kerry, among people from small towns and rural areas and among gun owners. He also did better than Kerry among white males, white Protestants, and white evangelicals. In short, the culture clash seems to have fizzled among many of the people supposedly most alienated by the cosmopolitan bent of the contemporary Democratic Party.


Obama actually recorded some of his biggest gains among white voters in some of the most culturally conservative parts of the country. He outpolled Kerry by 6 to 10 percentage points among white voters in Indiana, North Dakota, Utah, Montana, Nebraska, and—yes—Thomas Frank’s Kansas. In contrast, exit polls recorded smaller gains for Obama among white voters in bastions of elitism like New York, Connecticut, and California.


The perception that white Americans succeeded in transcending racial antipathy is reinforced by the fact that only 9% of voters in the exit poll said that race was a major factor in their decision, and they mostly voted for Obama.

So, that’s a good thing, right?  At least from the standpoint of race relations?  I mean, here we have a clean, articulate African American with virtually no governing experience outperforming a white war hero with serious foreign policy chops and years in the United States Senate!

Not so fast, says Bartels.

[T]here is a good deal of circumstantial evidence suggesting that racial resentment eroded Obama’s support among white voters. His gains relative to Kerry were significantly smaller in states with large numbers of African-Americans—a pattern disguised in the overall vote totals by his strong support among African-Americans themselves. In the former Confederacy he gained only slightly over Kerry among white voters, despite making big gains in two key swing states, North Carolina and Virginia. The only states in the country in which he lost more than a point or two of white support were Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi.

Now, waitaminute.  Obama gained among white voters even in nine of the thirteen states in the former Confederacy and this is evidence of white racism?  (Whereas, of course, blacks turning out in record numbers to support the black guy is mere civic pride rather than racism.)  Huh?

Did the exit polls ask any other questions than 1) Who did you vote for?  and 2) What color are you?  Because I’m guessing that there might be all manner of reasons that Obama fared worse than Kerry in those four states.  Maybe there was differential turnout based on downballot issues and candidates?  Maybe the “experience” issue resonated more deeply there?  Maybe the Hillary Factor played more of a role there, especially in Arkansas?  Maybe they perceived Obama as more liberal?  Maybe there are more guys named Joe or more plumbers in those states?

Matt Yglesias adds,

Obama improved on John Kerry’s vote share by 4.2 percentage points. His share of the white vote, by contrast, went up by only two percentage points whereas his share of the African-American vote went up seven points and of the Hispanic vote by 14 points. In other words, there was more rather than less divergence in white and non-white voting behavior.

But “divergence” isn’t a measure of racism.  Presumably, there were myriad factors that went into blacks voting for Obama in record numbers; surely, the historic nature of a serious black candidate for the presidency was at or near the top of the list, though.  As for Hispanics, one presumes the “of color” thing played a role, along with immigration and other issues.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Race and Politics, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. LFC says:

    There were people who voted both for and against the tickets based on:

    – Obama being black or being young
    – McCain being old or being a POW
    – Biden being Catholic
    – Palin being a Pentacostal or being a woman

    There will always be people whose vote is based upon stupidity rather than real issues. Unless it’s a huge number of people, the media needs to get over it.

  2. Floyd says:

    It sounds like Mr.Bartels is smoking Pot,and calling the kettle black!

  3. ken says:

    Yglesias is an embarassment to thinking rational liberals. He is one of those who think that any criticism of Obama is due to racism.

    I gave up on him long ago.

  4. Brief sketch of an alternative hypothesis: Obama did more poorly in southern states than Kerry because John Edwards was a southerner while Joe Biden (or at least his hair) is from Mars.

    Challenge: test these two competing hypotheses.

  5. tom p says:

    (Whereas, of course, blacks turning out in record numbers to support the black guy is mere civic pride rather than racism.) Huh?

    Ok James, I gotta call you out on this one.

    So what was it when year after year for 130+ yrs they turned out time after time (facing God only knows what, just for the right to vote) for the white guy? So you put blacks down for voting for a black guy who just happened to have been nominated for the highest office in the land despite the white hegemony that still exists within our 2 major parties?

    I am a union carpenter… Ya wanta know how many black carpenters I have worked with over the years? Here’s a hint: take one hand, hold it up in the air, fold the thumb down… then divide by 2…. In the years since I graduated high school, I knpow I got at least 6 jobs simply because I was white

    I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s… in Missouri… more racist than Oxford MI… Racism didn’t end with the Voting Rights Act of ’64. I have seen the worst of both sides of racism (once got jumped by 17(?) (I didn’t exactly count them) blacks for walking thru the “black” door at the cafeteria at my school(Kirkwood High)) Yeah, you all know Kirkwood, MO, where Cookie Thornton walked into a City Hall meeting recently and blew away 5 city officials (and NO… I make no excuses for Cookie, he had serious psych problems)(tho I do salute his Marine Corps marksmanship). And no I did not know him, though I am sure I did pass him in the halls a time or 2 (I graduated in ’76, he in ’74). He was from Meachem Park, and it was a small, unincorporated, black enclave of St. Louis Co. that none of the surrounding cities wanted. You know what? I had a buddy who lived in Meachem Park in 1975, 1975…. and there was a substantial portion of the residents of Meachem Park who still did not have indoor plumbing at that time. I am not talking about country, I am talking about living in the middle of high end suburbia, and they were still sh*tting in outhouses. In the late 80’s(?) Kirkwood finally annexed Meachem Park… then promptly took half of it (1/3?) thru eminent domain turning it into a Wal-Mart and a Lowes, and high end Condo’s. And Meachem Park got indoor plumbing. Ya wanta know how many blacks now work at the Wal-Mart and the Lowes? You really wanta know?

    My point is this: Racism did not go away with the Civil Rights Act… It didn’t go away with Carter or Clinton… It is right here and now. And if you do not see it’s legacy, it is only because you willingly choose to ignore the ramifications of it which still reverberate through our socity.

    I do not blame blacks for voting for a black man for Preseident of the United States of America. I never thought I would see they day when it would even be possible.

    Imagine, for a moment, how they felt.

  6. G.A.Phillips says:

    from “The Value Voters Blog”

    The Impact of abortion on African Americans
    On the fortieth anniversary of the day that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Junior was assassinated in the prime of his life, we face another tragedy in the African American community. A tragedy that many are not aware of and that rarely presents itself in any discussion of the challenges facing black people in America. A tragedy that many black elected leaders haven’t voiced opposition to and have in many cases supported. And a tragedy that would undoubtedly greatly shock Dr. King if he were alive to see this day.

    The tragedy is that for every two black babies born in the United States, one unborn African American baby in America is aborted.

    Abortion, a topic that provokes deep emotion among people who are on all sides of the issue, is much more common than most of us think among people of all races. Across all races, for every five American babies born, there is an abortion of a sixth baby who is not permitted to be born. Many of the arguments that are used to defend the practice of abortion are presented in a way that obscures the true statistical facts that surround the practice. For example, although it is commonly believed that most abortions are had by very young people, the CDC reports that only approximately 20% of abortions are had by mothers under the age of 20. And though people who defend abortion often mention the issue of rape, it has been estimated that only about 1-2% of abortions involve a mother who is pregnant as the result of sexual assault or incest (in fact, even if every reported rape in the United States led to an unwanted pregnancy that was followed by an abortion, this would only amount to less than 10% of the abortions reported each year). In addition, there is considerable misinformation about the human development life cycle that leads many to have an improper understanding of what abortion is. Abortion is anything but rare and in almost all cases, involves the termination of a human life in development whose heart has already started beating (since the heart starts beating typically one week after the first missed period). In my opinion, abortion in general is a national shame.

    But as bad as it is in general, the statistics on abortion get considerably worse when viewed with a focus on the African American community. Here are some simple, well-documented facts:

    Although African Americans make up 12.4 percent of the U.S. population we make up 35% of the abortions
    The abortion rate for black women is 2.9 times the rate for white women
    From 1989 until 2004, the abortion rate differential for black women increased from twice that of white women to 2.9 times as much.
    For every 1,000 black babies born, there are 472 unborn black babies aborted, which means that for every two black babies born, one black baby is aborted.

    Even though abortion usually happens as the result of a voluntary action by the expectant mother (but not always), it has long been suspected that certain organizations have encouraged blacks in particular to have abortions. In February, it was reported that The Advocate, a right-to-life student magazine at the University of California, tape recorded a phone conversation between an actor working for the organization and the Vice President of Development and Marketing for Planned Parenthood of Idaho. Here is an excerpt from the article that described the call:

    On the recording provided by The Advocate, an actor portraying a donor said he wanted his money used to eliminate black unborn children because “the less black kids out there the better.”

    Kersey laughed nervously and said: “Understandable, understandable. … Excuse my hesitation, this is the first time I’ve had a donor call and make this kind of request, so I’m excited and want to make sure I don’t leave anything out.”

    Planned Parenthood, which has long been suspected by many of placing its clinics in areas with high concentrations of African Americans, and whose founder once spoke at a Ku Klux Klan meeting and who spoke at another point with Nazi anthropologist Eugen Fischer, stated that it had taken “corrective action” against the individual.

    Although a key difference in the thinking of many who call themselves pro-choice and those who call themselves pro-life is the question of when life begins, there is one fact that both sides should easily agree on. In both abortion of an unborn baby and the death of an already born person, the future population in either case is decreased by one. And while many black elected leaders and clergy members talk about the issues that cause many deaths among already born African Americans – AIDS, gun violence, and health issues among them, many of the same people refuse to talk about the epidemic level of abortion in the black community. The CDC reports that in 2004, 35% of the 839,226 abortions that occurred in the United States that year involved the termination of the lives of unborn African American babies. Multiplying these two numbers together, we end up with a rough total of 293,729 unborn African American babies that were aborted in 2004 (not including California, West Virginia, and New Hampshire, which refused to provide its numbers to the government). At the same time, another CDC report shows that in the entire United States in 2004, there were a total of 283,859 deaths of already born African Americans. So, there were more abortions of black babies than deaths of all already-born black people from all causes in the U.S. during that same time period. More black babies were aborted than the total number of all black people who died from cancer, heart disease, homicide, AIDS, diabetes, combat injuries, etc – all put together. And, based on these numbers, in a five day period, the number of black unborn babies whose lives are terminated through abortion (4,023) is greater than the total number of U.S. troops who have died in the Iraq War (4,012) as of this writing.

    Unfortunately, there does not seem to be much outrage, discussion or dialogue regarding the issue of abortion. In fact, many who claim to represent the ethnic group most affected by abortion seem to be wholly in favor of changing nothing regarding its legality (in many cases for any reason and at any point in the pregnancy) and availability. And if thirty five years of abortion being promoted as a natural alternative to allowing an unborn baby to be born has shown a dramatic rise in the occurrence of abortion in the black community, one can only imagine how much more broadly African Americans might be affected by it in the future. According to NARAL Pro Choice America, every single member of the Congressional Black Caucus who was rated by the organization, including Senator Barack Obama, has a 100% Pro-Choice approval rating from them. It is difficult to understand why people who voice concern over how other social ills are affecting the lives of African Americans don’t understand the incredibly high rate not only of abortion in general but the degree to which it is harming blacks in particular.

    Impact of racism still being felt, indeed.

  7. rodney dill says:

    So what was it when year after year for 130+ yrs they turned out time after time (facing God only knows what, just for the right to vote) for the white guy? So you put blacks down for voting for a black guy who just happened to have been nominated for the highest office in the land despite the white hegemony that still exists within our 2 major parties?

    You’ve explained why it may be understandable that blacks would vote for Obama for racial reasons, but if they voted for him for reasons of race then it is still being racist. Anyone, black or white, voting for Obama for other reasons, like political issues, are not being racist.

  8. Steve Verdon says:

    When all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail. Yglesias and Bartels are so mirred in seeing things through race tinted glasses they can’t imagine anything other than a Racist America.

    I find my respect of Yglesias is a decreasing function of time. The more time goes by the more he writes and the more stupid things he writes. Funny, it is usually the opposite, that as people gain in experience they come to appreciate the subtleties and gray areas of life.

  9. tom p says:

    You’ve explained why it may be understandable that blacks would vote for Obama for racial reasons, but if they voted for him for reasons of race then it is still being racist.

    Indeed Rodney, but it only underlines my larger point that racism is not dead in this country by any means. I have never argued that blacks are incapable of racism, just that they have a reason, and those reasons are not in the deep dark recesses of our shared history, they are in the here and now. Until we face the here and now, we can never truly bury the past.

    Anyone, black or white, voting for Obama for other reasons, like political issues, are not being racist.

    I know of several whites who voted for Obama despite the fact that he is black… They just could not imagine voting for another 4 years of GWB. Time will tell if those of us who voted for Obama were right or wrong. I will say this: If Obama runs a competent administration, he will be re-elected. That may sound like a pretty low bar, but GWB set it.