Charles Franklin | November 15, 2008
An update and extension on my earlier post about the white vote for Obama. Thanks for a number of helpful thoughts in the comments on the earlier post.
First, the plot above shows how Kerry did among whites in comparison to Obama's performance. Normally when a party improves from one election to another, it does so across most demographic groups. This holds true for Obama vs Kerry in general and among whites in particular, as I showed in this post on Demographic Groups and Votes. But what about in the states?
For states below 25% African American, the trend line for Obama is above that for Kerry, indicating a general improvement among whites. (Note this is the TREND, individual states may differ-- see below.) But in the deepest of Southern states, which are also the states with the highest African American percentages, Obama falls below the Kerry vote. Now this is based on just four states, GA, AL, MS and LA, but those are also the states in which Obama had his worst performance with white voters.
So in terms of the overall trend, Obama generally improved among whites, but the shift in trend towards the right of the chart is significant.
What about the shifts by individual states, rather than the overall trend? See below:
Three of the four deep south states dropped clearly below their 2004 white support for Kerry. Georgia did not, matching it's 23% white support for the Democrat in both years. Mississippi, the lowest state in 2004, shifted from 14% to 11%, while my home state of Alabama dropped from 19% to 10%, claiming the prize for lowest white support for Obama of any state in the Union. Louisiana went from 24% to 14%, the largest point drop of all.
One other southern state registered a notable drop, Arkansas fell from 36% white support for Kerry to 30% for Obama.
Other states that declined in white support did so by small amounts and for obvious political reasons: Alaska, Arizona and ... Massachusetts.
Two other non-southern states showed small declines: New Mexico (43% down to 42%) and West Virginia (42% down to 41%). All these last five are inside the confidence interval for no change.
There were a number of states with considerable increases (labeled in the chart for a five point or greater gain.) The most interesting are North Carolina (up from 27% to 35%) and Virginia (up from 32% to 39%.) Clearly Obama could not have won those states on the white vote alone, but those shifts amount to roughly a 5-6 point boost in statewide vote share, certainly enough to matter.
Also interesting are traditional red states Indiana and Kansas, with gains from 34% to 45% and from 34% to 40% respectively. Also Montana and North Dakota are notable, with gains from 39% to 45% and from 35% to 42%. While the Democrat didn't win three of these four states, these shifts demonstrate that they are no longer as out of reach for Dems as recent past elections might have suggested.
But to also put this in perspective, most of the states shifted up by what we'd expect when a party goes from losing to winning. That means these gains are by no means now part of the "base" Democratic vote. Rather they show that most of the country found whites shifting to Obama much as they would for other Democratic candidates in a good year for Democrats. (We await further analysis to decide if the shift was as much, more or less than one might have expected with a white candidate.) So it is now up to the coming Obama administration to do well and solidify this support, or to do poorly and lose it to an advantaged Republican candidate in 2012. The next four years will determine that legacy of the 2008 election, not what happened on November 4th alone.