White Voters, Obama, and The 15% Nation

By Jeff Chang Apr 23, 2008

Originally published on cantstopwontstop Riffing on this great post from Ferentz… This past Monday before the Penn primary, Roger Simon @ Politico.com cited a convo with an unnamed Republican leader who put a number on the effect that racism would have on Barack Obama’s candidacy: 15% of white voters would not vote for him because he’s Black. Simon cited an AP poll that revealed the striking coincidence that 15% of voters thought he was Muslim. He also noted that the same poll allowed that 8% of whites admitted they’d never vote for Obama because he was Black. Simon figured that the number could have been underreported–by half. Turns out that Republican’s number–15%–might be just about on point. After Hillary’s big win last night, the NY Times reported this:

The results of the exit poll, conducted at 40 precincts across Pennsylvania by Edison/Mitofsky for the television networks and The Associated Press, also found stark evidence that Mr. Obama’s race could be a problem in the general election. Sixteen percent of white voters said race mattered in deciding who they voted for, and just 54 percent of those voters said they would support Mr. Obama in a general election; 27 percent of them said they would vote for Mr. McCain if Mr. Obama was the Democratic nominee, and 16 percent said they would not vote at all.

So there it is. The numbers are consistent with the AP Poll–about 8% of white voters told exit pollers they would switch to McCain or stay home rather than vote for Obama. Exit polling, of course, is also subject to underreporting. Assuming the general election is at least as racially fractious as this past month has been, we now know not only that Obama must overcome, we know roughly what the number is that he has to overcome–it’s no less than 8% and possibly up to 15%.