Race to the Bottom

Ebony & Irony

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.

13 thoughts on “Race to the Bottom

  1. I read the actual study, and they used Google searches of racial slurs as proxies for racism. Racism is actually very difficult to measure, social scientists have to trick people into being racist (seriously). The second problem about measuring racism is measuring its effect. Many people who might be inwardly racist never show any racist behavior. In fact, many people who are inclined to be racist actively work against their instincts. So even if the proxy isn’t totally invalid, the extrapolation that people would have voted differently if they weren’t racist is also incorrect. The study is completely bogus, bad methods, bad proxy, bad conclusions based on biased researchers.

  2. Sad but predictable that the Obama cheerleading squad would trump up excuses for their man five months before the election. It has nothing to do with poor job performance, it’s just racism. It’s just pathetic.

  3. Mitch, as you know, we conservatives can’t help being the way we are. As your tireless first tier Fact-Checker DG has asserted unequivocally in another forum:

    “The right demonstrates all of the functions associated with the amygdala, the rejection of any data regardless of it being accurate if it does not conform to the world view they choose to embrace. The amygdala is not associated with the rational thought processes, which is consistent with other scientific findings about the tendencies of conservative thought.”

    perhaps she’ll drop by and expound at length about this – after, of course, she provides her long overdue homework assignment.

  4. For those of us who didn’t vote for him in ’08 and don’t plan on voting for him in ’12- are we twice as racist this year or are we merely racists, twice? And, what if you’re not a racist, but fail to vote for him for other reasons; like maybe because he’s a socialist running-dog lackey who can’t buy a clue. Does that make you a newly-minted racist or are you a racist whose true antipathy is coming into full blossom because of your latent racial hatred for anyone or anything that’s not you?

    And, regarding the black guy who followed me from a SA station in ’02 and called me every vile and foul racial name in the book and threatened to do me harm for no apparent reason – am I still a racist in his eyes or has Obama delivered him into a post-racial harmony with my whiteness?

  5. It’s also an attempt to prepare the battlefield post November.

    Yep. In fact it’s mostly an attempt to prepare the battlefield. If the past 3 1/2 years have taught us anything, it’s that nothing is Barack Obama’s fault.

    Guess I’d better learn how to play banjo.

  6. The study is looking at the data backwards. Obama’s race isn’t hurting him now, it helped him then.

    In 2008, we had a historic opportunity to correct a grave injustice by electing the First Black President. True, his credentials weren’t very deep and the economy had hit a bump; but for most people, things weren’t that bad so we could afford to indulge ourselves. We elected the First Black President by a wide margin and felt good about doing it.

    In 2012, those conditions no longer apply. The First Black thing isn’t compelling – been there, done that – whereas the economy is much worse and not getting better. There’s no justification to electing him again. Play time is over; time to get back to work.

    We don’t hate him now, we didn’t hate him then. But he no longer has the qualifications he once had (being First) so we no longer want him in that job.That’s not racism, that’s realism.

  7. This is a simple-minded conclusion. If being the “First” and correcting a “grave injustice” is what gets a win then the Republicans should be running Michele Bachmann. We could all vote for the First Woman President, prove that we aren’t a sexist nation, etc.

    Sounds good to me. Bring back Michele Bachmann.

  8. But now that I think about it, the First Mormon thing IS rather compelling. We could show that, as a nation, we aren’t adverse to voting for cultists who wear magic underwear. I would have put the woman first, but Mormon works. And Black is so “last year”! I’ll go with the Mormon/cultist this time, just to show that I’m open-minded with my vote.

    Thanks for the insight into why Obama won, and how we should always vote for these “firsts”, regardless of their actual positions on the issues.

  9. “Thanks for the insight into why Obama won, and how we should always vote for these “firsts”, regardless of their actual positions on the issues.”

    And therein lies the flaw in the twisted liberat thought process. Obama was totally unqualified to be POTUS. The left wing meme that if we didn’t like/vote for him, we were racists, worked on you useful idiots in the DemocRAT party, so with the backing of all of the left wing finance organizations, especially commie George Soros, he won. As a country, we have gone backward economically because his message was the largest fraud ever perpetrated on the American citizen. It’s scary that too many of you morons are still believe in hope and change, magic money fairies, unicorns and leprechauns!

  10. What you have here is a Yahoo news story, based on a NY Times opinion column written by an economics grad student that references his unpublished research. Whichever Yahoo editor drone thought that this was newsworthy should be fired.

  11. “Obama was totally unqualified to be POTUS. The left wing meme that if we didn’t like/vote for him, we were racists . . .”

    Again, this is opinion. Subjective. I don’t think there was ever anyone saying that if you don’t vote for Obama you must be racist. My guess is that those who didn’t vote for Obama were Republicans, or people who didn’t agree with his positions.

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