05 October 2012

Mapping OIP Derangement Syndrome

In April 2011 the New York Times’ Politics blog published this map showing the change in votes for presidential candidates between 2004 (Bush v. Kerry) and 2008 (McCain v. Obama).

There are three parts of the USA where the victorious Obama-Biden ticket did over five percentage points worse than the defeated Kerry-Edwards ticket four years before. A couple of isolated spots are in Arizona and Alaska, the home states of the 2008 Republican ticket. But the biggest concentration is a swath of the inland South extending from western Pennsylvania and West Virginia through eastern Texas, including most of Tennessee and Arkansas, plus parts of coastal Louisiana, Georgia, and northern Florida.

At The New Republic, Alec MacGillis wrote of this region:
It is, almost to a T, what Colin Woodard, in his fascinating new ethnographic history of North America, American Nations, defined as the territory of the "Borderlanders" -- the rough-hewn Scots-Irish who arrived in this country from the "borderlands" of northern Ireland and Scotland, and claimed for themselves the inland hill country, far from the snooty Northeastern elites and Southern gentry.
MacGillis noted that this vote occurred while the Bush-Cheney recession was obvious, the land wars in Asia had become unpopular, and Obama hadn’t instituted any policies. It wasn’t a reaction to anything Barack Obama had done; it was a reaction to him.

In June 2012, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a graduate student in economics at Harvard, released a paper (PDF download) positing another way to measure animus against the President. As he explained for the Times, Stephens-Davidowitz analyzed Google searches that included racist terms.
I used data from 2004 to 2007 because I wanted a measure not directly influenced by feelings toward Mr. Obama. From 2008 onward, “Obama” is a prevalent term in racially charged searches.

The state with the highest racially charged search rate in the country was West Virginia. Other areas with high percentages included western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, upstate New York and southern Mississippi.

Once I figured out which parts of the country had the highest racially charged search rates, I could test whether Mr. Obama underperformed in these areas. I predicted how many votes Mr. Obama should have received based on how many votes John Kerry received in 2004 plus the average gain achieved by other 2008 Democratic Congressional candidates. The results were striking: The higher the racially charged search rate in an area, the worse Mr. Obama did.
Stephens-Davidowitz estimated that racial animus affected 3-5% of the overall vote in the 2008 election.
Many analysts have suggested that Obama has trouble appealing to white working-class male voters. But Kevin Drum at Mother Jones pointed out, using the graph above, that the two main Presidential candidates this year are running about even with white working-class voters except in the South. That’s not because Romney has any special ties to that quadrant of the country; in fact, the South is the only one of those regions where Romney hasn’t had a luxury home. That’s because of heavier concentration of anti-black racism, a common if indignantly denied ingredient in OIP Derangement Syndrome.

As MacGillis noted, in this year’s Democratic primary over 40% of West Virginians chose Texas prison inmate Keith Judd over the President. In Kentucky, rural Democrats preferred “uncommitted.” There was a similar result in Arkansas, with President Obama receiving only about 60% of the vote in the Democratic primary. Some observers tried to argue that was a response to President Obama’s policies. However, as the map at top and the search-terms study show, those states were already the epicenter of anti-black, anti-Obama sentiment.

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