Articles and Analysis


White Vote for Obama in the States, Part 2

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. 


Henry from Nashville:

Dear Charles, It's not very often that someone actually does something I request through an e-mail but you have. On Nov. 7, 2008 I sent an email to Charles Blow at the NYTs concerning his article "Without Appalachia" discussing Appalachian voting patterns. I commented on his article at the NYT's website and said the following:

"Excellent foresight. Let me add one thought. I suspect these counties are red because they have relatively small black populations. The other counties in the southern united states would be just as red if you controlled for the extraordinarily high black turnout throughout the country. Since the map shows the change in voter preference from 2004 to 2008, counties with significant black populations will never appear red because of the extremely high black turnout this election. I bet white southern rural voters generally were just as supportive of McCain as their counterparts in Appalachia. I think the reason Appalachia appears to be so red is that there are no black voters - not that Appalachia is anymore conservative or racist than white southern rural voters generally. I’d love to see this factor controlled for. The reason that I think this point is important is that while the point of your article relates to political strategy (how states are likely to vote) the thing that many take away is that this is a map of where the white racists live. If such a map could be created its borders would probably not be coextensive with Appalachia’s. Again, good work."

I'm sure you didn't read my comment but nonetheless I am very thankful you did the analysis. In fact, as your research shows, the map so prominently displayed in the NYT is misleading to the average reader. Most people viewed that NYT map as a map of where the white racists lived. As your analysis shows it's not that simple. First, of course, not voting for Obama is not proof of racism. Second, even if you accept that a non-vote for Obama is a proxy for racism, the map doesn't show where the racists live. What we need is a U.S. counties map shaded darker or lighter based on what percentage of each counties white voters voted for Obama. From your research it's obvious that in such a map Appalachia's contours would not leap out. If anything, I suspect it would look a lot like the old confederacy. btw, I'd like to see that map.

Thanks for you work.
Henry from Nashville


Vicente Duque:

Mr Charles Franklin :

Thanks for your data that I find very useful for my studies.

I have been studying the U. C. Census Bureau website and I have found the following surprising data :

"Four states and the District of Columbia were “majority-minority” (i.e., more than 50 percent of their population is made up of people other than single-race non-Hispanic whites). Hawaii led the nation with a population that was 75 percent minority in 2007, followed by the District of Columbia (68 percent), New Mexico (58 percent), California (57 percent) and Texas (52 percent). Next in line, though not majority-minority, were Nevada, Maryland and Georgia, each with a minority population of 42 percent

The U. S. Census Bureau has many pages with lots of data that are viewed from many different angles and perspectives.

Even the "Weekly Standard" that I understand is very Republican and Conservative is "scared" that Demography is going to put the Republicans in a sort of "Siberia".

I am trying to gather and sort all these informations and "panic" magazine articles in my site :


Vicente Duque


William Ockham:

You might want to take a look at the difference in the white vote by gender in the four Southern states where Obama underperformed Kerry among whites.



Are there underlying patterns in the white vote that we are not seeing in the state-level data? In particular, are white upland voting patterns really the same as white voting patterns in counties with high African-American populations and if so what conclusion can we draw from that? Back in the 60s when the South was in the throes of the Civil Rights era, a very different pattern (at least in the upper South and states that included chunks of Appalachia) prevailed where upland white voters went heavily Democrat, in contrast to lowland counties and urban areas that went Republican (starting around 1964). It seems to me that upland and lowland southern whites are still distinct demographic groups and even if we do see some convergence in voting patterns right now it is not necessarily due to the same factors. The question has some significance in that, if we are going to see improved race relations in the South, we would need to focus attention on those areas where African-Americans are a significant proportion of the population and where direct economic and social competition and cooperation between whites and African-Americans could partially account for changing political views.


Vicente Duque:

"I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky." - Abraham Lincoln

These states had slaves but were part of the Union and aligned with Lincoln during the civil war :

Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and West Virginia.

Obama won Delaware and Maryland but lost the other three.

Obama almost won Missouri, a state that Lincoln stole from the Confederacy.

Obama stole Virginia and North Carolina from the Old Confederacy. I do not know if Florida qualifies as Confederate. Perhaps Florida had only alligators at that time.

Swing States Ohio and Indiana were Union States, free of slaves during the Civil War.

Nate Silver speculates that Obama 2012 could win more Southern States because of familiarity with his person and figure on TV in every American and World Household.

Nate Silver also comments on these present pages of Charles Franklin in Pollster.com


I am also working a little ( learning ) History in my sites :


Vicente Duque


For states below 25% African American...

You're conflating a regional issue with a racial one. Your own plot shows very little correlation between the number of African Americans in a state and white voter support. However, there's an excellent correlation regionally. Draw a line from Alabama North to Maine, Michigan or Minnesota and you'll see a very clear trend of increasing support from South to North, irrespective of the percentage of blacks in each state. Even West Virginia, which many were suggesting was filled with white racists, fits the pattern perfectly (more supportive of Obama than Virginia and Kentucky, less supportive than Ohio and Pennsylvania).

In fact, simply plotting the data on a map shows a very precise pattern - slightly different in the Western US than in the East, but with clear regional trends.


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