Where have all the Clinton Voters Gone and what does Race have to do with it?

 Posted by  Lynn Vavreck

It’s the question on everyone’s minds in the last week before the election. Are these poll numbers real? Another way to ask this is to ask: what would have to be true for us to believe that Obama is enjoying this level of support from the American electorate? And, what does all of this have to do with race in America?

Simon Jackman and I are the Principal Investigators of The Cooperative Campaign Analysis Project (CCAP) and we are in a unique position of having data that helps to answer these questions. CCAP is a six-wave panel study of 20,000 registered voters. The survey started in December of 2007 and will end after the election in November.   It is a cooperative project of 30 universities and nearly 75 scholars. 
 
During the last weeks of March and September we asked people to answer a battery of questions to measure racial antipathy toward African Americans. We also asked people whom they thought they would vote for in the election. 
 
To measure racial antipathy, we use the traditional racial resentment battery (Kinder and Sanders) that asks people questions about affirmative action, work ethic, and government assistance for African Americans relative to other racial groups. The four racial resentment items are scaled using IDEAL. In the primaries, the distribution of the racial antipathy scale for voters casing ballots in the Democratic primary for Clinton or Obama looked like this:
  
 
Distribution of Racial Resentment Scale, Clinton and Obama Primary Voters
(Measured in March 2008)
Racial Resentment.jpg 
 
How does this scale relate to Democratic primary voters’ choices between Clinton and Obama in the primaries? 
 
The results are striking. Increasing levels of antipathy toward blacks are strongly related to vote choice even within the Democratic primary. This result is robust to demographic controls such as gender, age, income, race, ideology, and party ID. 
 
RACE AND THE CLINTON/OBAMA CHOICE
In the primary election, this means that people with higher levels of antipathy toward blacks were more likely to vote for Hillary Clinton. These are the now infamous group of white, lower income voters living in the Mid-western regions of the country that we heard so much about during the primaries. Another interesting finding to emerge from this relationship is that white voters with very low levels of racial antipathy are voting for Obama in very strong numbers. This relationship among racially tolerant people is much stronger for Obama than it has been in the past for other African American candidates such as Jesse Jackson (Tesler 2008).
 Obama over Clinton, March.jpg
                                                                     Level of Racial Antipathy
 
 
WHERE HAVE ALL THE CLINTON VOTERS GONE?
When Obama clenched the Democratic party nomination, many (31%) of these Clinton supporters said they would not vote for Obama and would instead vote for John McCain. 
 
In September, over 2/3rds of those Clinton supporters who said they would defect have come home to the Democratic party. Only 19% (of the 31%) of Clinton supporters who said they would vote for McCain continue to hold this position. Another 20% of the 31% are still undecided.
 
RACE AND THE McCain/OBAMA CHOICE
Racial antipathy toward blacks remains a strong predictor of vote choice in the general election match-up between McCain and Obama. Using all white voters this time, here is the distribution of racial resentment among white, general election registered voters by their vote choice. These data come from our September wave of the survey. 
Distribution of Racial Resentment among White Voters by Vote Choice
  Obama McCain Racial Resentment.jpg
 
Once again, as antipathy increases the probability of voting for Obama decreases. Among people who voted in the Democratic primary, however, the relationship is mitigated by the power of party identification. Nearly all Democratic-primary voters are predicted to vote for Obama based on their levels of antipathy toward blacks as a group.   This explains the difference between the two lines below.
 Obama Over McCain.jpg
 
                                                          Levels of Racial Antipathy
 
 
To underscore these findings, we asked people whether race was a factor in their vote decision. Roughly 7% of registered voters voting against Obama reported that Obama’s race was a reason they would vote against him. We estimate that this number is understated by a factor of 1.6. Through a series of experiments described below, we conclude that nearly 11 percent of registered voters who are not supporting Obama are voting against him because of his race.
 
Conversely, 12% of registered voters supporting Obama said they were voting for Obama because of his race. Using list experiments we estimate that this number underestimates the true value by a factor of 3. We believe more than a third of registered voters supporting Obama are attracted to him because of his race.
 
Methodology:
Basic List Experiment with 3 Conditions
 
We randomly divide the sample into groups that receive different survey questions. The first group (OPEN LIST) is asked to tell us WHICH conditions are important as reasons to vote for (or against) Barack Obama. We provide a list of items. 
 
In the second group (CONTROL), we simply ask people to tell us HOW MANY of the things are important as they make up their minds. People respond with a number from zero to five. In this group, we leave one item OFF THE LIST – the item mentioning Obama’s race. Note that people do not have to tell us WHICH THINGS, only how many. 
 
In the third group (TREATMENT), we do the same thing as in group two, but we include Obama’s race as an item in the list. People in this group respond with a number between zero and six. 
 
The difference between the average value in Group Two and the average value in Group Three is the percentage of people who added Obama’s race to the list of reasons to vote for or against him. For example, if the average value in Group Two is 3.1 items and the average in Group Three is 4.1 items, we know that everyone (100 percent) included the race item in Group Three (because all the other items are the same and the groups are randomly assigned.) 
 
This methodology allows people to anonymously reveal when socially undesirable considerations (things they don’t want to admit to) are important to them. Results are below.
 
 
REASONS FOR VOTING AGAINST OBAMA

Which things matter?

 
Economic Plan      38
Party                      33
Iraq Policy              57
Health Care Plan 52
Speaking Ability    16
He’s black              7
 
 
How many things matter?
(CONTROL GROUP)
 
Economic Plan     
Party
Iraq Policy
Health Care Plan
Speaking Ability
 
 
AVERAGE # MENTIONS:
2.64
How many things matter? (TREATMENT)
 
Economic Plan     
Party
Iraq Policy
Health Care Plan
Speaking Ability
He’s black
 
AVERAGE # MENTIONS:
2.75
 
 
 Difference between CONTROL and TREATMENT = 11%
 
 
 
REASONS FOR VOTING FOR OBAMA

Which things matter? 

 
Economic Plan      74
Party                      61
Iraq Policy              76
Health Care Plan 79
Speaking Ability    64
He’s black              12
 
 
How many things matter?
(CONTROL GROUP)
 
Economic Plan     
Party
Iraq Policy
Health Care Plan
Speaking Ability
 
 
AVERAGE # MENTIONS:
3.9
How many things matter? (TREATMENT)
 
Economic Plan     
Party
Iraq Policy
Health Care Plan
Speaking Ability
He’s black
 
AVERAGE # MENTIONS:
4.2
  
 Difference between CONTROL and TREATMENT = 30%
 
 
We conclude from these data that many people may not be comfortable expressing that race is a factor in their decision to vote against Obama, but many more voters are uncomfortable saying that race is a factor in their decision to vote for Obama. This relationship works in both directions. To underscore this, among black respondents (almost all voting for Obama) 25% tell us in the open list (Group One) that race is a factor in their decision to vote for Obama. But, the list experiment shows that 75% of African Americans reveal that race is a factor in their decision to vote for Obama. The open list results underestimate this number by a factor of 3. In other words, even black respondents are reluctant to admit openly that race is driving their vote. 
 
We ran the same type of experiment for McCain’s age and found dramatic results. Many more people list McCain’s age as a reason to vote against him when they can do so anonymously than list Obama’s race as a reason to vote against him. 
 
For more information on these data and analyses contact:
 
LYNN VAVRECK, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES  
(650- 305- 9424 LVAVRECK@UCLA. EDU)
 
SIMON D. JACKMAN, STANFORD UNIVERSITY  
(650- 387- 3019 JACKMAN@STANFORD. EDU)
 
 
 
 

 

6 Comments

Lynn, great post. Love those list experiments!

I wonder how the association between racial resentment and vote choice in this election compares with previous presidential elections? That would give us some additional leverage on how much it reflects Obama's race and how much it reflects partisan differences in racial attitudes.

Thanks, Marty. My graduate student at UCLA, Michael Tesler, has been doing a lot of work on this. I will try to grab some of his graphs showing the differences in these relationships across years. You're, of course, absolutely right. If this relationship looks the same every year, then we need to know that!

One thing that remains compelling is the work this concept does in the Democratic primary ... we have other data showing that respondents cannot distinguish the two candidates on any issues, too.

Regarding the general elections of the past, Michael's work demonstrates that the idea of racial resentment is consistently a strong predictor of vote choice, BUT, what's special about this year is the extent to which the left side of the scale is committed to Obama. Those proportions are much higher than typically observed. In other words, the line is steeper in 2008, but that's because the ends -- and in particular the left end -- are more extreme.

I will ask Michael to write this up quickly and I'll share it here.

The use of the word even in the phrase "even black respondents are reluctant to admit openly that race is driving their vote" is in itself a racially biased statement. It presupposes that white voters would automatically be more reluctant to admit openly that race is driving their vote than blacks. It is my opinion that reverse antipathy (a person voting for candidate of same race due to a perception that voters of opposite race are doing the same regardless of issues) plays a much bigger role in this type of voting scenario than is realized. It would have been nice to see questions included in this study that gave some type of insight into the impact of reverse antipathy on voting. Perhaps you could include this type of questioning in further studies.

David Stromberg (a Princeton Econ Ph.D. now at the University of Stockholm) has a very interesting analysis of the "Bradley effect" based on recent congressional and gubernatorial races: http://www.voxeu.org/index.php?q=node/2514. The effect is significant, he says, but mostly due to black Republican candidates who weren't going to win anyway.

From Michael Tesler: A historical comparison of the effects of racial resentment on vote intention does indeed provide considerable analytical leverage in figuring out whether Kinder and Sander’s racial resentment scale is tapping into anti-black affect or is merely the product of non-racial ideological conservatism. See Tesler's Election Day post on this blog.

If someone in the treatment group says all 6 reasons were important to them, that obviously has to include race, so doesn't that reveal them to be racist?

About this site

The mission of Princeton’s Center for the Study of Democratic Politics at the Woodrow Wilson School is to promote empirical research on democratic processes and institutions.  That broad mandate has attracted a diverse collection of faculty, students, and visitors pursuing a wide variety of research topics. However, the American electoral process has been a recurrent focus of interest for many of the scholars associated with CSDP and a frequent topic of conferences, colloquia, and other events sponsored by the Center.  As the 2008 campaign unfolds, we thought it might be helpful and fun to collect the election-related research, analyses, and offbeat insights of our extended scholarly community, both for our own edification and as a resource for others interested in how political scientists are thinking about the election.  We welcome contributions, comments, and suggestions. For more about the people and activities of CSDP, please visit our website, http://www.princeton.edu/~csdp/. To post a comment, click the "speech bubble."

  — Larry M. Bartels, Director

Recent Entries

  • What the 2008 Election Meant: Politics and Governance

    On Friday, November 14, CSDP and the Brookings Institution co-sponsored the final seminar of the Election 2008 series:PanelistsJohn HarwoodChief Washington Correspondent, CNBC; Political Writer, New York...

  • How Obama Survived the Culture War

    Much of this year’s Republican presidential campaign consisted of a series of blistering attacks portraying the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama, as an elitist, a celebrity,...

  • Election Debriefing

    I’ve already seen lots of excellent political science post-mortems on the election. John Sides has had a particularly good series of posts at Monkey Cage attempting to...

  • A Few Questions for the President-Elect

    Two days after Senator Obama’s historic victory, the President-Elect has begun assembling the men and women who will guide his decision-making for the next four...

  • Campaign Effects in the 2008 Election: Money, Ads, and Mobilization

    On Friday, October 31, 2008, CSDP and the Brookings Institution held the fourth of five seminars on this year's election: Campaign Effects in the 2008 Election:...

Close