Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Clinton Firewall (or, Coming to Terms with the "Race Chasm")

If you are craving a little deeper analysis of the election, David Sirota has written an interesting piece for In These Times on "The New York Senator’s last-ditch efforts to win the Democratic nomination," which, he says, "could rely on the 'Race Chasm' and the trampling of democracy."

It's all about the graph posted above (click to enlarge). Seriously. In short, Sirota explains, "That precipitous dip in Obama’s performance in states with a big-but-not-huge African-American population is the Race Chasm—and that chasm is no coincidence."

Still not making sense? Here is an explanation of how the "Race Chasm" has played out in the Democratic contests so far:

On the left of the graph, among the states with the smallest black population, Obama has destroyed Clinton. With the candidates differing little on issues, this trend is likely due, in part, to the fact that black-white racial politics are all but non-existent in nearly totally white states. Thus, Clinton has less built-in advantages. Though some of these states like Idaho or Wyoming have reputations for intolerance thanks to the occasional militia headlines, black-white interaction in these places is not a part of people’s daily lives, nor their political decisions. Put another way, the dialect of racism—the hints of the Ferraro comment and codes of Bill Clinton’s Jesse Jackson reference, for instance—is not politically effective because such language has not historically been a significant part of the local political discussion. That’s especially true in the liberal-skewed Democratic primary.

On the right of the graph among the states with the largest black populations, Obama has also crushed Clinton. Unlike the super-white states, these states—many in the Deep South—have a long and sordid history of day-to-day, black-white racial politics, with Richard Nixon famously pioneering Republican’s “southern strategy” to maximize the racist segregationist vote in general elections. “But in the Democratic primary the black vote is so huge [in these states], it can overwhelm the white vote,” says Thomas Schaller, a political science professor at the University of Maryland—Baltimore. That black vote has gone primarily to Obama, helping him win these states by big margins.

It is in the chasm where Clinton has consistently defeated Obama. These are geographically diverse states from Ohio to Oklahoma to Massachusetts where racial politics is very much a part of the political culture, but where the black vote is too small to offset a white vote racially motivated by the Clinton campaign’s coded messages and tactics. The chasm exists in the cluster of states whose population is above 6 percent and below 17 percent black, and Clinton has won most of them by beating Obama handily among white working-class voters.

In sum, Obama has only been able to eke out victories in three states with Race Chasm demographics, where African-American populations make up more than 6 percent but less than 17 percent of the total population. And those three states provided him extra advantages: He won Illinois, his home state; Missouri, an Illinois border state; and Connecticut, a state whose Democratic electorate just two years before supported Ned Lamont’s insurgent candidacy against Joe Lieberman, and therefore had uniquely developed infrastructure and political cultures inclined to support an outsider candidacy. Meanwhile, three-quarters of all the states Clinton has won are those with Race Chasm demographics.

What do you think? Is the "Race Chasm" an effective way to understand the role of race in the Democratic election?

Give the full article a read and let me know. I'd love to read your thoughts...

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