Explaining West Virginia, plus some Oregon polls

What is up with West Virginia, a commenter in the previous thread asks. Should we think of it as a racist a state? That's the impression one gets reading media commentary about today's primary.

As has been increasingly evident throughout this year, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have built extremely stable electoral coalitions and the breakdown of the vote among key constituencies has been remarkably stable since January -- Clinton wins Hispanics, the lower classes, voters with no college degree, blue collar workers. Obama wins African-Americans, the upper classes, voters with a college degree, white collar workers. In almost every state the demographics determined the results, with both candidates failing over and over again to make inroads in the other candidate's base (and it's not for a lack of trying, like Obama with Hispanic voters in California). The few times Obama broke the Clinton code (Virginia and Wisconsin mostly), the rewards were great.

West Virginia has a huge proportion of blue-collar voters and voters with no college degree, not to mention that there is only a small black population. If West Virginia votes the way every other state has voted, its demographic make-up guarantees Clinton a gigantic victory so there is nothing surprising in today's expectations. There is nothing particularly strange about West Virginia, about its voters or its racial dynamics. We've long known that Reagan Democrats are among the toughest groups for Obama. This is not to say that the 25% Obama is getting in the polls are not due to racism or that the Illinois Senator is not struggling because of racial prejudice. The point merely is that the issue here is not that much different than in other states so let's not be too harsh on West Virginia.

Whether the question of racism arises depends on how you want to explain the fact that blue-collar white voters are not voting for Obama. Clinton supporters would argue that Obama's rhetoric resonates more with the upper classes because it is more transcendent (Politico quotes a Democratic strategist saying that: (“What people don’t understand about Appalachia is that we’ve heard all this ‘hope’ and ‘change’ stuff since the English kicked the Scotch-Irish out in the 1700s. We’re ‘hoped’ out. Nothing ever changes out here. He’s got to come with some solid policies.”) Yet, it seems hard to argue that race doesn't play an important role as well. You can decide how much weight to attribute to both factors.

Also, let's keep in mind that sexism is also a huge issue, and one that Clinton has to fight herself in West Virginia. From a West Virginia voter as quoted by the Boston Globe, via Ben Smith:

"I'm going to vote for the colored guy," said Henry Ford -- "no, not that Henry Ford," the 87-year old retired carpenter in the Napa Auto Parts hat pointed out. "I don't dislike her, but I don't think a woman can be president of the United States. I don't think she can handle the job."

Not that such language is surprising considering congressmen are engaging in stunningly sexist rhetoric as well.

Meanwhile, Obama can look forward to Oregon's primary on next Tuesday where he seems to be solidifying his position according to 3 new polls. This could help him balance out awful news that is likely to come out of Kentucky.

  • SUSA finds Obama to be ahead 54% to 43% and gaining ground among women. Note that 43% of voters say they have already voted (Oregon has a mail-in voting system) and Obama only leads by 1%.
  • The Portland Tribune finds Obama crushing Clinton 55% to 35%. I believe this is the first non-SUSA poll of Oregon.
  • Finally, PPP shows Obama leading 53% to 39%.
The Obama campaign is looking to clinch a majority of pledged delegate on May 20th. A large victory in Oregon would guarantee that they succeed.

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  • I don't have any particular interest in spinning the race issue one way or the other, and I find that a very off-hand way on your part of dealing with a significant phenomenon - in certain areas, there is definite linkage between socio-economic status and racial attitudes. Or, in plain English, race-based resistance seems to increase as you move down the economic ladder. Polling data has shown that repeatedly.

    There may be a lot of reasons for that - when you're feeling squeezed economically, it's human nature to bond more strongly with your identity group, whatever. I won't engage in pop psychology because I just don't know. But all you have to do is read the story in today's WaPo to get the flavor of what Obama volunteers in Indiana and PA have encountered. Nothing there, as anecdotal as it may be, allows for anything but bigotry as a motivator. It's nasty stuff.

    Which gets me to Clinton. There are a million ways to view her comments in the USA Today interview - objective statement of fact, attempt to play the race card, implicit criticism of AA workers as not being hard working. No-one has to my knowledge touched on the most important point.

    Neither of the Clintons has spoken out and said that she does not want to win this contest on the votes of racists. Instead, she's using anti-black sentiment as a rationale for the Super Ds to support her. That's hardly the kind of behavior we expect from Democratic candidates.

    In the Clinton world, this may be smart politics. In my world, it's gutter politics.

    By Anonymous zoot, At 13 May, 2008 15:51  

  • Taniel,

    I'll still say that the Democratic Party has remnants of the old Dixicrat faction that dominated southern politics up until 1970. Being from the South, I feel I can talk from my own interactions with people that the resentment still exists among races. Sometimes it's on the surface, and sometimes it lays deep into one's thinking.

    I enjoyed your take on it. It's somewhat different than mine, but I still respect it.

    By Anonymous Jim West, At 13 May, 2008 16:43  

  • I think that the primary reason that white working class voters like Hillary is because they think she will represent their interests better than Obama. This belief may have some basis in racism; some might think that a black man will only focus on black interests and not on any others. A belief like that would be especially common among those who are less educated and mostly have limited exposure to african-americans, often through stereotypes. The Rev. Write and "bittergate" only further these beliefs.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 13 May, 2008 17:32  

  • Anonymous has a point, to a point, I think. And I think he or she also worded it quite well.

    But I come from Ohio and was often in both KY and WV. Racism is indeed alive and very well off in both of those states, make no doubt about it.

    There is no other way to describe. Two candidate, who, by their own admission, are much more similar in their stands on issues and their plans for the future of the nation, than they are different, should not be polling so far apart from each other, unless there is a foreign element involved causing one hell of a lot of antipathy, and in this case, it is quite obviously racism.

    Were the race between Clinton and Edwards in these states, those numbers would be neck and neck.


    Call a spade a spade and stop dancing around it.

    And massive sections of southern Ohio are no different, btw. Racism doesn't stop at state or commonwealth borders.

    By Blogger Mark, At 13 May, 2008 17:55  

  • I think that racism is more potent than sexism for several reasons. One of the major ones is that there are alot more (white) women in this country than African Americans. Another is that Clinton has generally been sucessful in giving herself a tough image and not having any incident really rattle her both into seeming to "feminine" and one that makes her into a B*. Obama on the other hand had is postracial view practically shattered thanks to Rev. Wright. Because of this, Obama is much more succeptiable to racism than Clinton is to sexism.

    I agree with you mark, if the WV race today was between Edwards and Clinton it probably would be tied (or even an Edwards advantage, as I'm sure the bulk of Obama supporters would have gravitated towards him). Of course realistically, if Edwards had won Iowa and therefore eliminated Obama from the race, Clinton would have destroyed him before February 5th.

    By Anonymous jaxx raxor, At 13 May, 2008 18:19  

  • Interesting that it is Obama who has occasionally transcended the demographic divide (WI and VA). Clinton has yet to break out of her base. Who is the weakest candidate.

    Also there is racism and sexism present. Some voters will prefer Clinton over Obama due to his race. But then McCain vs Clinton will bring out the sexism.

    So Clinton is getting support from people who have no intention at all of voting for her in the GE. Either because they followed Limbaugh's operation chaos or because they are first racist then sexist. This means Clinton has a weaker base.

    By Anonymous Mike, At 13 May, 2008 18:42  

  • I thought Obama supporters were supposed to be more educated. That being the case, are people just forgetting that West Virginia became a state because it wanted to remain a part of the Union in 1863? It broke away from the Confederacy! Come on! Also, is it not too much to think that West Virginians actually like the Clintons? Heck, all this talk about it being a "red" state is absurd to me, as it voted Democratic not only in 1992 and 1996, but also 1988! Dukakis! Give the state more credit please!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 13 May, 2008 18:49  

  • Saying that Edwards and Clinton would have been tied does not necessarily have much to do with race. Edwards wanted to be the candidate of blue-collar workers, of the lower-classes and of concrete economic policies. Of course Edwards would have done great in West Virginia, perhaps better than in any state in the country, based on his class appeal.... and he would have been strong against any candidate, not just Clinton, who would not have been able to be the blue-collar voter candidate with Edwards still in the race.

    So giving the example of a Edwards-Clinton match-up proves nothing since it makes as much sense from the class point of view than the racial one.

    As the previous commenter says, I do think it makes little sense to dismiss Clinton's entire victory as race-motivated here. And Mike, the WV voter talking about Clinton's gender is planning on voting Obama today so the point was that potentially many voters (perhaps not as many in WV but perhaps more other places) could be voting for him because she is a woman, and neither discrimination should be minimized.

    By Blogger Taniel, At 13 May, 2008 18:53  

  • A Democrat hasn't won the presidency without WV since 1916. They were solidly blue until 2000, so the "Reagan Democrat" label simply doesn't apply. This "racism" claim by Obama supporters is in itself racist. The backlash for making such dumb assertions is that you cause whites to vote against the racist black guy. Now that the claim is out there, they're free to oblige you. Barack should have taken a page out of Edwards' playbook and worked a day doing manual labor like he did shovelling dirt in LA. A few days here and there doing a version of "Dirty Jobs" would have helped tremendously. My dad once spent a day cleaning tools at an oil company with a wire brush before getting the job as ceo at that company. It cost him a suit and some blisters, but it killed the ivy league elitist problem.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 13 May, 2008 19:33  

  • Just thought I'd point out that Rasmussen polled Oregon recently and gave Obama a 51-39 win.

    By Blogger jonas, At 13 May, 2008 20:13  

  • the "racist if you're white working-class and don't vote for obama" canard has it backwards. all due respect to african-american voters---sure, it's certainly true they wouldn't vote for ANY black candidate, but that doesn't make the following LESS true----given the overwhelming emotions of protectiveness and loyalty produced by centuries of disenfranchisement, it is not unfair to say that this group will vote for any CREDIBLE black candidate, and senator obama is indeed a good, credible candidate, though not, particularly for working-class voters, as good a candidate as senator clinton. however, take away the powerful filter of history and past disenfranchisement---i.e., take white voters---and what you have, are voters who are not prejudiced IN FAVOR of obama. and that group (quite accurately) can thus see clearly enough to judge him the lesser of the two demo candidates for their economic interests. yeah, probably a tiny fraction are racist. but with the rest, it is rather that they are free enough of PRO-obama prejudice to compare him clearly to clinton....with foreseeable results. i'm not saying, black voters would vote for any creep who is black. i'm saying, the first decent, credible black candidate was ALWAYS gonna get every last black vote(just about), regardless of whether that candidate was the "BEST" candidate....that was true regardless of anything bill clinton said in south carolina. the white voters who are going for hillary are in the great majority not racist. it is just that, when you discount "homeboy love," obama is not an attractive package to the working-class. nor to many of us middle-class types either. sorry. it's true.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 14 May, 2008 00:37  

  • If this MS-01 result doesnt bring in dozens of more superdelegates for Barack Obama, I dont know what will. Without his turnout program aimed at African Americans and young people, Childers would not have even come close here.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 14 May, 2008 02:41  

  • Zoot is right. W.V. results are all about 3 things, race, race and race. Any poster who spins otherwise hasn't lived here (in WV) like I have.

    By Anonymous mpd, At 14 May, 2008 06:19  

  • Anon 02:41

    To quote Joe Biden: "Bullshit"

    Here are the demographics of MS-01:

    White: 71%
    Black: 21%
    Hispanic: 7%
    Other: 1%

    This is an extremely white, rural CD in northern MS, bordering TN and with Desoto county also bordering AR. The only county of these 23 with a black majority is Clay county, and even there, it is not a massive majority: 56.80%.

    So, anon is yet another bottom feeding troll who did not do his homework. Bad troll. No donut.

    The GOP is screwed in MS. If it can't retain a predominantly white CD in this atmosphere of creating hate and mistrust vis-a-vis blacks, then the GOP might as well pack it in and sit this one out.

    By Blogger Mark, At 17 May, 2008 04:50  

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