Thursday, November 06, 2008

Racism in the 2008 U.S. Presidential Elections

Barack ObamaFor months, the media has been been whining about the Bradley effect that could have spoiled Barack Obama's victory in yesterday's presidential elections. Basically, the Bradley effect says that when there are two candidates, one white and one black, a significant number of whites intends to vote for the black candidate and says so too when asked by a pollster, but nevertheless, once in the voting booth they vote for the white candidate. Racism! But where's the outcry about 95% of African-Americans voting for Barack Obama, clearly a racist vote?

Let's just do the numbers and make some estimates. Historically, African-Americans have always voted for the candidate of the Democratic Party. In 2000, Al Gore received 85% of the black vote, and in 2004, John Kerry received the all-time-high of 90% of the black vote, both of them receiving more than Bill Clinton did in 1992 or 1996. If we take John Kerry's score as the baseline, i.e. 90% of the black vote, we would expect to see 45 votes for the Democratic candidate fore every 5 votes for the Republican candidate. That leaves an estimate of about 50% of the black vote for Barack Obama as primarily based on race.

These calculations do not account for another effect that might have played a role: black voters who otherwise wouldn't have bothered registering to vote this year primarily because of Barack Obama's race. A jump in the participation by the African-Americans in these elections compared to previous elections would indicate this.

Did this make any difference for the final outcome of the presidential elections this year? In order to check that, we can assume that the 50% of the black vote due to Barack Obama's race otherwise would haven broken into another 5% of the black vote for John McCain, and the other 45% going to Barack Obama. Even though the African-Americans represent 13.4% of the United States' population, they account for only about 10% of the votes in presidential elections. Therefore, if John McCain should have received 5% more from the black vote, it means that in total, he should have received 0.5% more than he did. I don't think that would have made a difference large enough to change the final outcome of this week's elections.

Anyway, even if it didn't influence the outcome of the elections, it seems clear that a large part of the African-American votes were primarily based on one of the candidate's race. Even if it isn't 50%, but only 40% or even 30%, these numbers are still huge. Therefore, I expect to see a huge outcry over this in the media the coming days, with lots of analyses about how racist some parts of the United States' electorate have become, maybe even some demonstrations and many strong condemnations from all anti-racist organizations all over the world. Don't you?

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