Sunday, January 27, 2008

Is the South Carolina Primary Vote Like the United States Vote?

Yesterday, January 26, we posted an entry that asked the question: What percentage of the white vote can Barack Obama get in a general election campaign? If Barack Obama is to win the White House the answer to this question is crucial. According to the CNN exit polls for 2000 and 2004, white voters made up 81% and 77% of the two respective electorates. Al Gore got 41% of the white vote and won the popular vote, while John Kerry got 40% of the white vote and lost the popular vote. So clearly while it is not necessary to win the white vote, it is apparently essential to get around 40% of the white vote.

Which brings us to the CNN exit poll for the South Carolina Democratic primary. According to the CNN exit poll for the Democratic primary, African-American voters made up 55% of the vote in South Carolina's Democratic primary. Non-black voters made up 44%. Among those voters, Barack Obama got 52% of white voters 18-29; 25% of voters age 30-44; 23% age 45-59; and 15% age 60 and older. According to CNN news reports these figures add up to "nearly a quarter" of the white vote. Which means, of course, that around 75% of non-black voters, to use the CNN term, voted against Obama.

We don't want to rain on the Obama parade, but in the general election getting around 25% of the white vote isn't going to cut it. It should also be kept in mind that he didn't win 25% of the total white vote in South Carolina, but only 25% of those whites that took part in the Democratic primary. Certainly not the same thing.

Are we saying that Barack Obama can't win the general election? No, because there are some variables that are not easy to predict. One is whether his being on the ballot in November would increase the African-American vote from the 11% of the total vote it was in 2004. Second, the Hispanic, which was important to Bush winning the popular vote in 2004, seems to be going in the Democrats' direction. Third, Obama does do well among young voters of all races and his being on the ballot might increase their participation.

What we are saying is that the South Carolina Democratic primary electorate is not like the national electorate and therefore while Obama's win there is impressive, it is certainly not conclusive on the issue of whether he can win enough of the white vote to win the presidency.

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