Wednesday, July 7, 2010

White voters hold the key, whatever that means

I have to admit I'm a bit confused by Chris Cillizza's piece on white voters and the 2010 midterm elections. He does a nice job drilling down into polling data, to be sure.  But I'm not sure how to square this statement:
Four years after Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) lost the white vote by 17 percentage points, Obama lost it by 12.
with this one:
White voters... almost certainly hold the key to Obama's and the Democrats' chances in the fall.
So... white voters hold the key to the election, but you can still win an election even while losing whites by a substantial margin.  Um, okay.  We could really use a definition of "hold the key" here.  It clearly doesn't mean that Democrats need to win white voters outright.  So maybe it just means that they're important in some way?  If so, couldn't we say the same about any large subgroup of Republican-leaning voters?  I mean, Cillizza notes that "Obama's approval rating among white voters has dropped from better than 60 percent to just above 40 percent." But Obama's overall approval rating has dropped from the mid-60s to the high-40s since his inauguration, so we're really talking about a similar drop across the board.  What makes white voters so special?

Of course, if the administration were planning some sort of special outreach exclusively to white voters, that would strike me as newsworthy.  But Cillizza provides no evidence for such a campaign.  The evidence presented just shows that Obama is doing just about how we'd expect him to be doing among white voters given his overall standing and given white voters' conservative bent.

I'm also a bit confused here:
One senior strategist, speaking candidly about his concerns on the condition of anonymity, noted that white voters made up 79 percent of the 2006 midterm electorate, while they made up 74 percent of the 2008 vote. If the white percentage returns to its 2006 level, that means there will be 3 million more white voters than if it stayed at its 2008 levels.
Er, no, there won't be 3 million more white voters.  Turnout will be well below 2008 for all subgroups.  It will just likely be the case that the dropoff in turnout will be less for whites than for nonwhites.

(via Brendan Nyhan)

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