Measuring Racism

Politics is a complicated subject — substantially moreso than is demonstrated by most bloggers intent on venting their spleens or developing their own demagogic brands.

However, as our nation is enveloped in one of the most important but mind-bogglingly vacuous elections the world has ever seen, a couple of facts stand out.

It’s been widely reported that in a year that should be extremely pro-Democratic (due to the widespread failures of the last eight years), a democratic candidate should be leading by about ten percentage points right about now.

In fact, we see that the election is very tight indeed, with McCain and Obama splitting the vote in a statistical dead heat. To be fair, national polls do not tell the whole story. The electoral college results (and the swing states) will determine the winner. However, based on this set of statistics we can do some simple math to deduce the effect of race on this election.

According to this report from the US Census Bureau, approximately 125 Million people voted in the 2004 election, up from 110 Million in 2000 and 105 Million in 1996, respectively.

In the current election, poll numbers have been running approximately as follows: 46% McCain, 46% Obama, with the remainder going to third party candidates.

Pundits have suggested that were the Democratic candidate white, and was named something like James K. Watson, the poll numbers would be more like 51% Watson, 42% McCain. This is not what we are seeing.

So, let’s assume that the 2008 voter turnout will be something like 135 Million. If the election were held today, current polling figures would suggest 62.1M votes for Obama and 62.1M votes for McCain.

If we hold, instead, our theoretical election with McCain (white) vs. Watson (white), historical evidence would suggest that Watson would receive approximately 68.9M votes, while McCain would receive approximately 56.7M votes.

This suggests that roughly 6.8 Million (difference between 62.1M Obama and 68.9M Watson) registered voters in this country, roughly 5% of all voters and 3% of citizens, are motivated by racism or xenophobia in some form.

According to the same census report, there were another 16.4 Million registered non-voters in 2004. And there were 71.3 Million citizens who were not registered to vote in 2004. If we apply the same percentages to our 135 Million voter figure for 2008, it breaks down as follows:

I’m quite aware that issues surrounding race, and people’s perception of it, are quite sensitive.  No one likes to be called a racist, and certainly no one likes to be a victim of it either.

However, there is an elephant (no pun intended) in the room in this election, and it may help to identify it and measure it.

Undoubtedly, there are those who would make an argument that it is not racism that is keeping this election as tight as it is, but that it is instead due to legitimate policy disagreements with the Democratic platform. There are those who will be insulted at the notion that racism could possibly be an issue in this election. To those people, I suggest that they are either a) part of the non-racist voting majority, or b) being disingenuous.

This week, National Public Radio ran a piece on race in the election wherein they interviewed a woman from Pennsylvania who suspected Obama was a Muslim, and that the only way you “stopped being a Muslim” was to be “dead,” and that she “couldn’t put her finger on it, but there was something about him she just didn’t trust.” The interviewer asked whether it mattered that Obama has repeatedly denied being a Muslim and the response was that, “it just didn’t matter, she didn’t trust him.”

This, unfortunately, is the kind of racism I’m talking about. It’s an irrational fear of the other — perhaps more accurately described as xenophobia — but it’s racism nonetheless in this case, and our country deserves better than to be bogged down in another 50 years of race politics.

Slavery is surely the original sin of this country, and if we are not careful, the racial issues that have been left in its wake may prove to be the undoing of the free world. It’s time to vote based on the issues, not based on gut “instincts,” not based on “who you’d rather have a beer with,” or any other irrational motivation that may have been passed to you by family or culture. America, it’s time to rise up and do the right thing.


#1 Travis on 09.14.08 at 6:05 am

Nice write up, Dave. I’ve been frantically getting in touch with all my friends in Florida and asking them if they’re registered. The only thing that will swing this election is the youth vote according to John Della Volpe, Harvard’s Director of Polling. So, we need to make sure our youth are registered and voting in swing states.

Also, I’d like to see a cited source for the “Pundits have suggested that were the Democratic candidate white…” line as those number play pretty heavily into your article here. Talk to you soon!

Travis – Find your local candidates and know who you’re voting for in the 2008 Presidential election!

#2 Margaret Purcell on 09.15.08 at 5:10 pm

Great read. I heard the NPR piece as well and found it fascinating – and frustrating. I loved the woman who WANTED to be made to feel uncomfortable. Sadly, I’m fixated on McCain’s recurring melanomas and the likelihood of that woman becoming president at some point if they win. I should channel my efforts into volunteering or just write another check to the DNC.

#3 davetroy on 09.15.08 at 5:17 pm

Agreed, Palin is a totalitarian, sure of her righteousness and with an iron fist. My concern now is that Obama needs to focus on McCain — relentlessly and with focus — and let the Palin fire burn out as it assuredly will once the media tires of its shiny new toy. McCain needs to be called out on the deceptive demagoguery he’s been selling as “Straight Talk.”

Great to hear from you again, BTW!