The Moderate Chasm

As some of you know, I’m not an enthusiastic supporter of Hillary Clinton. But some of the attacks against the Clinton campaign are reaching new heights of self-righteous absurdity. For example, while I think Bill Clinton and other Clinton surrogates have at various points tried to inject race into the debate, I certainly don’t this has been at the heart of the Clinton strategy. Rather, the Clinton campaign has tried to forge an important new coalition that may well represent the future of American politics, namely an alliance of working-class whites and Latinos. But there are some Obama supporters who don’t see things this way. They are convinced that the Clintons are cynical race-baiters.

David Sirota’s very interesting analysis of the Clinton-Obama race tells us more about David Sirota than it does about the Clinton-Obama race, I suspect. To demonstrate that the Clinton campaign is incorrigibly race-mongering, Sirota has thrown together the “Race Chasm graph.” The rather eccentric recipe is as follows.

To date, 42 states and the District of Columbia have voted in primaries or caucuses. Factor out the two senators’ home states (Illinois, New York and Arkansas), the two states where Edwards was a major factor (New Hampshire and Iowa) and the one state where only Clinton was on the ballot (Michigan) and you are left with 37 elections where the head-to-head Clinton-Obama matchup has been most clear. Subtract the Latino factor (a hugely important but wholly separate influence on the election) by removing the four states whose Hispanic population is over 25 percent (California, New Mexico, Texas and Arizona), and you are left with 33 elections that best represent how the black-white split has impacted the campaign.

Who says? Is it just me or does this strike you as a little arbitrary? For example, could we exclude Ohio on grounds of Clinton-endorsing Governor Ted Strickland’s animal magnetism? Massachusetts on grounds of Obama-endorsing Governor Deval Patrick’s profound unpopularity? Oklahoma has a large American Indian population — not a factor, I take it?

The Race Chasm idea is actually pretty clever.

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.

Okay. I mean, this is a slightly strange claim to be making for a lot of reasons, but it has a surface plausibility. Then Sirota goes in for the kill.

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.

Or could it be that … Clinton’s Midwestern origins and waitress-mom sensibility sell well in these regions? Confounding variables, anyone?

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.

I think Sirota is referring to the (obvious and striking) fact that Connecticut is a very affluent state with a large number of affluent college-educated social liberals. Much of Connecticut’s African-American population is concentrated in high-poverty inner-city areas. Lamont won 61 percent of black voters in Connecticut, a strong result. It could be that Obama fared well in Connecticut because the state Democratic party is unusually liberal. Missouri does indeed border on Illinois. But Vermont and Connecticut border on New York, and they share media markets. Arkansas counts as one of Hillary Clinton’s home states. But of course she was raised in Illinois.

How about: states with liberal Democratic electorates voted for Obama, states with less-liberal Democratic electorates voted for Clinton? This would be less dramatic and damning than the “Race Chasm,” but no less plausible. Sirota could reply that what I call a “less-liberal” or “moderate” politics is in fact “race-baiting.” Which is an interesting hypothesis, to be sure, and a convenient one as well.

Another interesting line, on superdelegates:

Of course, it doesn’t hurt Clinton’s cause that, close to half of the superdelegates are white, according to The Politico.

So are we to understand that white Democratic superdelegates are voting according to identity politics? Also, given the demographic composition of the country and the party, is it strange or sinister for close to half of superdelegates to be white?