Thomas F. Schaller’s July 1 New York Times article “The South Will Fall Again” makes a strong case that the Obama campaign would be wise not to invest much time and resources into winning electoral votes in “the 11 states of the former Confederacy.” Schaller admits that Virginia and Florida are exceptional cases that Obama can hope to win on November 4th. But he pretty much disses the idea that the electoral votes of other southern states are in play.
Schaller relies on ’04 election data to prove his point. Only in 3 of the 11 southern states , FL, AR and VA, did Kerry cut Bush’s margin of victory below 10 percent. And only in FL did Kerry come within 5 percent of winning. Demographics have changed somewhat during the last 4 years, with a large Hispanic influx into the region and northern job-seekers emigrating south. But it’s unclear how much this would benefit Democrats.
Schaller cites aggregate statistics indicating the Black voter turnout in the 11 southern states is proportional to the population, “17.9 percent of the age-eligible population and 17.9 percent of actual voters in 2004.” He offers the example of Mississippi to illustrate that “the more blacks there are in a Southern state, the more likely the white voters are to vote Republican.”
In their May 16 NYT article “In the South, a Force to Challenge the G.O.P.,” Adam Nossitor and Janny Scott point out:
In one black precinct in the town of Amory, Miss., the number of voters nearly doubled, to 413, from the Congressional election in 2006, and this for a special election with nothing else on the ballot. Meanwhile, in a nearby white precinct, the number of voters dropped by nearly half.
A similar increase has been evident in Southern states with presidential primaries this year. In South Carolina, the black vote in the primary more than doubled from 2004, to 295,000, according to exit poll estimates. In Georgia, it rose to 536,000 from 289,000.
One expert on African-American politics, David A. Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, called those numbers “almost astounding.” Black turnout also shot up in states like Maryland, Virginia and Louisiana, even after Hurricane Katrina had driven many Louisianians out of state.
Schaller argues that even the most optimistic projections of Black turnout will not be enough to overcome the GOP advantage in the south. However, Schaller’s analysis doesn’t take recent polling trends into account. According to recent poll averages cited by Pollster.com, Obama is behind McCain 3.2 percent in FL, 5.3 percent in GA and 2.9 percent in NC, and Obama leads McCain by 1.4 percent in VA. Granted, early horse race polls are lousy predictors of what will happen in November, but they do give candidates some idea of how they are running. In light of these numbers, it doesn’t make much sense for Obama to “write off” NC or GA just yet, especially if he choses Sam Nunn as a running mate. It appears that his investment in those two states is good strategy at this stage.
Obama is not Kerry, who may have been the ideal candidate from the point of view of southern Republicans. Another consideration is that Republicans have a lot more to answer for this time around. And how well does Obama’s demonstrated ability to connect with young white voters play in the south? These are just a few of the issues Obama must consider in tweaking his southern strategy in the months ahead.