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RealClearPolitics HorseRaceBlog

By Jay Cost

« Not Quite Yet | HorseRaceBlog Home Page | A Review of Obama's Voting Coalition, Part II »

A Review of Obama's Voting Coalition, Part 1

Today I begin a review of the voting coalition Barack Obama has built. I will integrate statewide electoral returns, countywide returns, and exit poll data to provide a coherent, and hopefully comprehensive, narrative of how the junior senator from Illinois has (almost) acquired the Democratic Party's nomination for president. I will also take some tentative steps to infer what might happen in November, given the results we have seen to date.

Today's essay will be a broad overview of the nationwide landscape.

We all know the details of the RealClearPolitics delegate and vote counts. However, these national totals belie interesting variation in different regions of the country. To begin to capture this, let's make use of the Census Bureau's nine regions of the United States. We'll examine regions east of the Mississippi first.

Obama v. Clinton, East of Mississippi.gif

As we can see, Clinton has won more regions in the east. Built on her strong win in Massachusetts, she carried the New England region by about 10 points. She swept all three states in the Mid-Atlantic region - Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey - carrying the whole region by about 12 points.

The North Central Region is interesting. Obama won the region on the whole by about 8 points. However, this margin obscures significant variation within the region. Obama crushed Clinton in Illinois and Wisconsin, while Clinton posted strong wins in Ohio and Michigan, computed here by allocating all undeclared votes to Obama [I know this is a hot controversy these days - but remember our purpose here is to analyze voting coalitions, not to allocate delegates!].

A similar pattern exists in the South Central region. She won Tennessee and Kentucky. He won Mississippi and Alabama. Her wins were bigger - and so she won the region by 6.5 points.

The South Atlantic has perhaps been the difference-maker for Obama. What we see there is a 14-point victory for him. This is, by far, the largest margin in any region. It has made a huge difference. If we exempt the South Atlantic from our vote tallies, Obama would go from a 450,000 lead to a 425,000 deficit. In other words, he has netted nearly one million votes in the region. He has also netted a huge cache of delegates - 103 to be precise. Given that his overall pledged delegate lead is 158, this is very significant.

Now, let's move on to the west.

Obama v. Clinton, West of Mississippi.gif

First, we notice that Obama cleaned Clinton's clock in the Upper Midwest. This is built exclusively on caucus events. He's enjoyed 2:1 results in North Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas - plus a solid victory in Iowa. The only primary to date in the region was Missouri - and that state was basically a tie.

Clinton won the Lower Midwest. This 6.5-point victory is built around her win in Texas, supplemented with big wins in Oklahoma and Arkansas. For his part, Obama won Louisiana by a large margin, thanks to overwhelming support from African Americans.

The candidates have basically split the Mountain West, which spans from Arizona and New Mexico to Idaho and Montana. Obama won the caucus states in the north. Clinton won the primaries in the south. They split the states in the middle - with Obama winning Utah and Colorado, Clinton winning Nevada. What you see on the chart there is a 3.5-point Obama victory.

Clinton's victory in the Pacific West is due entirely to her win in California. She lost every other state in the region. Once again, Obama performed extremely well in the caucus states - racking up huge wins in Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii. He also won the Oregon primary by a significant margin.

We know by now that Clinton has consistently won white females and Obama has won African Americans. However, there has been variation in how each candidate has performed among white males. Let's try to explain this. We'll start by looking at how each candidate has performed with white males in each region, beginning with the east.

Obama v. Clinton Among White Males, East of Mississippi.gif

As we can see, there is some significant variation here. Obama won the white male vote in New England, thanks to his wins among them in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Connecticut.

In the mid-Atlantic region, Clinton won white males in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Overall, she won them in the South Atlantic, though the figure here obscures some real variation in how the white male vote played out. Clinton won them comfortably in Florida, and overwhelmingly in North Carolina and West Virginia. Obama won them in Maryland and Virginia. They split them in Delaware, Georgia, and South Carolina. Of course, Edwards actually won the white male vote (by 17 points) in South Carolina; my sense is that if he had not been in the race, they would have voted similarly to white males in North Carolina.

In the South Central, what we see is an eye-popping, 40-point victory for Clinton among white males. Once again, the tie in the North Central region obscures significant variation. Clinton won white males by 15-20 point margins in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. Obama won them by 20-30 points in Wisconsin and Illinois.

What about west of the Mississippi?

Obama v. Clinton Among White Males, West of Mississippi.gif

Clearly, there is once again a lot of variation among white males - though this time the overall trends do not favor Clinton as much.

First off, I would not put much stock in that Upper Midwest number because it depends solely upon Missouri - the only state in the region with exit poll data on race by gender. Nevertheless, Clinton posted a solid victory among white males in the Show Me State.

In the Lower Midwest, Clinton also carried white males. Though she split them 50-50 with Obama in Texas, she won them comfortably in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana.

In the Mountain West and the Pacific West - Obama won the white male vote. In fact, the only state in the region where Clinton won the white male vote outright was Nevada. Her wins in Arizona, New Mexico, and California were provided by white females and Hispanics, not white males.

All in all, we find some intriguing variation among the states. What explains it?

My sense is that a partial explanation is socioeconomic status. Obama is probably winning upscale white males; Clinton is probably winning downscale white males. This, I think, accounts for his victories among white males in places like Oregon, California, Wisconsin, Texas, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and Georgia. Each state has sizable populations of upscale whites - and I think that these are the types of white males Obama is winning. Meanwhile, Clinton does better with white males in places like Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, etc. - all of which have significant populations of downscale white males inclined to see themselves as Democrats.

Unfortunately, the exit polls are not specific enough to allow us to check this directly. They do not provide socioeconomic data by race and gender, which is what we would need to make a straightforward inquiry. However, we can confirm this trend indirectly. Let's regress Obama's share of the white male vote in a state on two variables: (a) the percentage of voters with a college degree, and (b) the percentage making more than $100k. These are the two best variables we have for socioeconomic status. Our expectation is that, if Obama is winning upscale white males, these two variables will be positively related to his share of the white male vote.

Indeed, that is precisely what we find. Both the income and college variables are related to Obama's share of the white male vote. Combined, they account for 40% of the variation in Obama's share of the white male vote. From this, we can infer that socioeconomic status makes a difference with the white male vote. The wealthier and more educated the population, the better Obama does among white males.

We'll continue our analysis tomorrow.

-Jay Cost