NYT: “Mr. Obama’s race appears to have been the critical deciding factor in pushing ever greater numbers of white Southerners away from the Democrats” Buzzfeed: “This map shows the most racist parts of America.” The first is a supposition (note: “appears to have been”) about the effect of one of the factors that likely, and in some confirmed cases did, influence the votes of a portion of a demographic category of voters in a loosely-defined region. We know what they’re getting at, but they’re careful not to say more than the data can support. They don’t address the motivations of any non-whites that voted against McCain in any area, btw. The second is an unsupportably definitive statement and judgment of the level of racism in every part of the country based on voting patterns and on an assumption about why a segment of people in only certain counties voted the way they did. One swath of counties is bad, elsewhere is OK. It’s sloppy, omits information that doesn’t fit the conclusion, and apparently relies on large scale mind reading. Buzzfeed doesn’t have and can’t ever get enough data to back up their statement as worded/quantified/mapped, however tempting it may be. Why not just stick to posts about celebrity feet and shrimp on underwater treadmills, avoiding the pitfalls of complex demographic analysis and psychological guesswork? Next week they will post the “America’s Christian Poseur Belt” map, which shows the region of the country where regular churchgoers secretly don’t believe in God as much as in other regions. It will be based on the lowest quintile in a tithing data set collected by the National Council of Churches. It’s going to be awesome. Let’s out those sinners for all to see.
This map shows a rough correlation between people who self identify as of American ancestry and counties that voted more Republican in this election cycle than the previous cycle. Maybe the McCain/Palin campaign’s theme of being pro-American while questioning whether Obama loved his country worked for these self identified Americans.
The NYT did not confirm your claim that a whole swath of America is racist. They wouldn’t because they are more careful about how they present their data and in how they word their conclusions and headlines. They used the same map but didn’t make your same claim. They talked about race as one factor in an article about the South in this and other elections. They offered some anecdotal evidence, some analyst opinions, and some data that is suggestive about the race factor but not conclusive, because it can’t be. You paint with far too broad a brush when you put up a map and say “this area is racist.” You could never get your claim published in a peer-reviewed publication because they would say that you can’t justifiably make the conclusion you made based on the data and methods you used. At a minimum they’d make you change your title and more likely make you back off some of your conclusions. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t be partly true - I don’t think anybody has any illusions that there aren’t white racists in the South - but it means you can’t responsibly or supportably say what you said. And there are too many other oversteps and omissions in your argument. You’re only selecting data that supports your argument. Are the black people who voted against McCain racists too? If so, do we need to expand that map? Are Southern people who have always voted Republican racist, or just the ones that did this time? Does being white in the South and voting for McCain make you racist? What determined each individual’s vote? Race? Party ID? A major issue like health care? A boutique issue? Local or regional concerns? Age? VP? Conditions in the wider world? Inaccurate campaign slurs? Who’s better looking? A combination of lots of things? When you have to say, “We can’t think of any other explanation” what you are saying fundamentally is “We don’t know. We can’t see. So we’re going to guess.” You don’t know because the issue is much larger and more complex than we can quantify. Even if it looks like a region voted based on race, you can’t call that area the racist belt unless the voters there all confirm to you specifically that they are racist and voted based on that. Good luck with that. And even then you still can’t put up a map called the racist belt because it clumsily implies that everyone in that swath is racist, even though so many in it voted differently or didn’t vote or voted for other reasons. Even if your article detail backs away from the title and map, you still can’t lead with that. You can, as the NYT did, suggest strongly that race was a factor, but that’s as far as you can go and maintain credibility. But I guess that wouldn’t generate as much traffic for you. I’m thrilled that Obama won and I hope Republicans and racists are as miserable as I have been for the past eight years. But that’s not an excuse to publish irresponsible trash such as this and another horrendous candidate-related post that I won’t give any more buzz to here. I’ve been enjoying this otherwise fun site but these things stink.
The New Republic responds: The Mind of the South
Momentarily doffing my business-beat hat, I want to highlight a strange article in the New York Times this morning. “For South, a Waning Hold on National Politics,” reads the headline, and the gist of the piece is that Southern voters, by backing McCain this election, have proven that their backward ways are increasingly irrelevant to the American scene. There are lots of good quotes from the usual suspects—Merle Black, Tom Schaller—and lots of interesting anecdotes. But the accompanying graph, a county-level map showing left-right voting levels in 2008 relative to 2004 (hues of blue if the counties tilted more Democratic this time around, hues of red if they tilted further to the GOP), seems to belie most, if not all, of the article’s premise. Across the “Deep South”—South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and northern Louisiana, what the rest of the country talks about when it talks about the South—the map is almost entirely blue. Pretty much all of Texas is blue, too. That means that Obama, even if he didn’t win these states, still did better than Kerry. Instead, the red splotches center in eastern Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and southern Louisiana; northern Alabama is pretty red as well. (Interestingly, these are places where Democrats tend to do well, historically, on the local and state level.) What this all points to is not a waning South, but a fissured and rapidly changing one. Perhaps the most frustrating thing for southerners, and those who study the South, is to watch observers pinch and pull at the region’s boundaries to fit their argument. Sometimes it’s everything from Delaware El Paso; sometimes it’s just rural Georgia. The fact that Obama won three southern states, did better than Kerry in counties across the region, and invigorated a substantial number of minority voters—black southerners are southerners, too, remember—complicates the picture of the South as some sort of static geographic-demographic bloc of racists. What is really surprising is not how stalwart the South is in its ways. It’s that broad swaths of the region look just like the rest of the country.
— Clay Risen