One of the more prestigious political science journal just published an issue devoted to prognostications about the upcoming Presidential election. A variety of academics used their favored forecasting methodologies, and predicted the likely winner. The results ranged from “comfortably Obama” to “very, very close” to one “Romney by a nose.” (I’ve noted that “scientific” methods are a lot more accurate after the election has occurred.)
The problem with forecasting models is that they rarely take into account elements like likability; heretofore, they have not had to confront massive spending by SuperPacs, either. And even the scholars who employ them hedge their bets.
One element that was not measurable before 2008–and has now been measured–is the influence of race, as in the race of the candidates. Any sentient being knows that much of the anti-Obama animus is race-based (the “birthers” and people convinced that the President is a Muslim are so obviously substituting those charges for the N word). What has been unclear is the extent to which that racism motivates votes. In that journal’s issue on the election, one article analyzed data from the 2008 election, and concluded that his race had cost Obama five percent of the vote–that is, that Obama’s percentage of the popular vote would have been five percent higher had he been white. The author of that article forecast a slightly better result this time around; according to his calculations, racism will “only” cost Obama three percentage points this time around.
Of course, in a very close election, three percent is enough.
A lot of folks are in denial about the extent to which race influences attitudes about the President. They shrug off the more obvious indicators, like the guy in the photo taken at a Romney rally, whose tee shirt read “Put the white back in the White House.” I have friends whose unease with the President is pretty clearly based upon his “otherness,” but who don’t recognize or admit to themselves that such feelings are a part of their political calculus.
If we are inclined to dismiss the influence of racism, a look at Gallup’s polling may serve as a wake-up call. Gallup has been an “outlier” lately, showing Romney five or six points ahead in the popular vote. When you look at the internals, you see an interesting phenomenon: in Gallup’s numbers, Obama holds modest leads in the Northeast, Midwest and West. Romney leads in the South–by twenty-two points.
Maybe we shouldn’t have fought the civil war–and just let the South go.