The media begins to chum the political waters for race-baiting.
There was little doubt that race was one of the larger underlying narratives of the 2008 presidential campaign. The election of the country’s first African-American president, by the largest popular vote margin in twenty years, was widely hailed by Barack Obama’s supporters as a sign that racial relations had truly improved.
And now, what of the electorate that gave Obama 69 million votes, 365 electoral votes, and an 8% margin of victory? According to the polling analyst du jour, America has not only returned to being a land of racist voters but, in fact, always was:
Though many people believe that our first African-American president won the election thanks in part to increased turnout by African-American voters, Stephens-Davidowitz’s research shows that those votes only added about 1 percentage point to Obama’s totals. “In the general election, this effect was comparatively minor,” he concludes. But in areas with high racial search rates, the fact that Obama is African American worked against him, sometimes significantly.
“The results imply that, relative to the most racially tolerant areas in the United States, prejudice cost Obama between 3.1 percentage points and 5.0 percentage points of the national popular vote,” Stephens-Davidowitz points out in his study. “This implies racial animus gave Obama’s opponent roughly the equivalent of a home-state advantage country-wide.”
Apparently Obama was supposed to have won by 11% or even 15%. Or maybe simply by acclamation.
Where is this thesis of latent racism coming from? Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a doctoral candidate in economics at Harvard University, who gleaned his insight from that fount of all wisdom – the Internet.
Stephens-Davidowitz coupled internet search histories with racially charged words with searches for “Obama”, compared them to results for the 2004 election, and faster than you can google “the Bradley effect,” surmmerized that Americans are actually super secret racists. And if you believe the liberal-leaning polling outfit, Public Policy Polling, you may need to add roughly one-quarter of African-American voters to the ranks of the racists since they’ve soured on Obama in North Carolina. Perhaps Stephens-Davidowitz is saving that study for after he get his doctorate in an unrelated major.
There are a few issues within Stephens-Davidowitz’s thesis that most people wouldn’t contest. Racists still do exist in some places in America and the electorate’s view on the condition of race relations has plummeted since Barack Obama’s election:
A new Newsweek poll puts this remarkable shift in stark relief for the first time. Back in 2008, 52 percent of Americans told Pew Research Center that they expected race relations to get better as a result of Obama’s election; only 9 percent anticipated a decline. But today that 43-point gap has vanished. According to the Newsweek survey, only 32 percent of Americans now think that race relations have improved since the president’s inauguration; roughly the same number (30 percent) believe they have gotten worse. Factor in those who say nothing has changed and the result is staggering: nearly 60 percent of Americans are now convinced that race relations have either deteriorated or stagnated under Obama.
Whites are especially critical of Obama’s approach: a majority (51 percent) actually believe he’s been unhelpful in bridging the country’s racial divide. Even blacks have concluded, by a 20-point margin, that race relations have not improved on Obama’s watch.
A myriad of reasons explain such stark polling data, but it doesn’t help that the media consistently attempts to propagate stories that seek to find racists around every corner. Especially in political coverage which implies that to oppose President Obama is to oppose him based on the color of his skin. It’s false and deeply insulting.
It’s also an attempt to prepare the battlefield post November. As Stephens-Davidowitz concludes:
The state with the highest racially charged search rate was West Virginia, where 41 percent of voters chose Keith Judd, a white man who is also a convicted felon currently in prison in Texas, over Obama just this May. Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina, Alabama, and New Jersey rounded out the top 10 most-racist areas, according to the search queries used.
What does this mean for this year’s contest? “Losing even two percentage points lowers the probability of a candidate’s winning the popular vote by a third,” Stephens-Davidowitz explains. “Prejudice could cost Mr. Obama crucial states like Ohio, Florida and even Pennsylvania.”
The narrative is set. If Barack Obama loses re-election, the nation of progressive, racially-harmonious voters will have suddenly become extras in a remake of “Deliverance.” But is this exactly a wise political strategy? It’s bad enough when one party blames their defeat on the electorate being stupid enough to fall for the rhetoric of the opposition, but what is there to be gained from inferring that voters are racists?
Do Republicans need to counter that if you vote for Barack Obama, you’re secretly a religious bigot who hates Mormons? Sheesh.