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Opinion

New York Times data-driven blog post on Southern whites' votes doesn't have much good data

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Michael Barone,Barack Obama,Oklahoma,Polls,2012 Elections,The New York Times,Mitt Romney

The Upshot, the New York Times's latest website, is supposed to be heavily data-based. But that certainly wasn't the case in a recent blog post by Nate Cohn headlined “Southern Whites' Loyalty to G.O.P. Nearing That of Blacks to Democrats.” Cohn presents almost no data at all, but has a good-looking map in which counties where President Obama allegedly won 20 percent or less of the white vote in 2012. But where's his data for that? Take a look at Oklahoma, a state that Mitt Romney carried 67 percent to 33 percent. Oklahoma's population is 7 percent black, 9 percent Hispanic and 8 percent American Indian (not including those relatives of Elizabeth Warren who told her that their family had Cherokee ancestry). Blacks are concentrated in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and a handful of counties in the southeastern part of the state; Hispanics are scattered; Indians are found largely in eastern counties that once formed the Indian Territory.

Cohn’s map shows counties comprising about half of Oklahoma’s land area as voting less than 20 percent for Obama. But by my count, only 14 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties voted less than 20 percent for Obama overall. Add in some others which voted slightly more than 20 percent Obama, and in which it’s plausible that whites voted less than 20 percent for him. But the fact is that most of the counties colored orange in on Cohn’s map don’t have more than a handful of non-white voters; and it’s not at all apparent that Hispanics and Indians, the non-whites most numerous in many of these counties, voted anything like as heavily for Obama as blacks did. There was no 2012 exit poll for Oklahoma, but the exit poll for 2008 (when Oklahoma voted 66 percent to 34 percent against Obama) shows whites, who were 82 percent of the electorate, voting 71 percent to 29 percent for John McCain, with no percentages for candidates given for blacks, Hispanics, Asians or others, presumably because the sample size for each was too small.

By extrapolation, that suggests that the 18 percent of non-whites voted for Obama by only a 51-percent to 49-percent margin, which suggests that self-identified Indians (presumably counted as others) voted a lot like whites and that Hispanics may have done so as well (which would be similar to how they have apparently been voting in west Texas).

Anyhow, this map looks like an exercise of Cohn's imagination rather than the result of any serious data-crunching. As for the headline, as political scientist Larry Bartels notes, Obama won 30 to 35 percent of Southern whites' votes, leaving 64 to 69 percent for Mitt Romney. That 64 to 69 percent is not “nearing” Obama's 93 percent share of black votes; it's closer to the national average.

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Michael Barone

Senior Political Analyst
The Washington Examiner