THE BLOG

Pennsylvania & the Persistence of the Race Chasm

04/23/2008 10:00 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A few weeks ago, I published an article in In These Times showing how Hillary Clinton has been winning states almost exclusively in the Race Chasm - states whose populations are more than 6 percent but less than 17 percent black. The results of the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania - a state whose demographics fall squarely in the Race Chasm - continue the trend.

I have hypothesized that the Race Chasm exists because of racial politics. Specifically, in states where there is almost no black population, black-white racial politics has little traction because it isn't part of the political dialect. In states where there is a very large black population, the black vote can offset a racially motivated white vote. But in the Race Chasm, the black vote is too small to offset a racially motivated white vote.

So how prevalent was race as a factor in voting in Pennsylvania? The exit polls suggest that when Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) previously said race would be a huge factor, he was absolutely correct. Specifically, page 4 and 5 of the CNN exit poll show a whopping 19 percent of Pennsylvania voters said race was an important factor in their vote, with Clinton winning almost 60 percent of that segment. Broken down further, 13 percent of the white vote said race was a major factor in their vote, with Clinton winning 75 percent of that group.

These are big numbers, especially considering the fact that these numbers only represent voters who are willing to admit to pollsters they are voting on race. The real number is probably much higher, because some voters may not want to disclose such taboo voting habits.

Let me reiterate something I wrote in my original Race Chasm analysis:

Clearly, race is not the only force moving votes. Demographic groups -- white, black or any other -- do not vote as monoliths. Additionally, the Race Chasm does not mean every white voter who votes against Obama nor every black voter who supports Obama is racially motivated.

However, considering the exit polling and the fact that Pennsylvania falls squarely in the demographic Race Chasm, it is clear that those who continue to pretend race is not a major factor in this campaign are deliberately averting their eyes from a very powerful force in the Democratic primary.

UPDATE: I should have added this into the original article. Some folks say that even discussing the Race Chasm is good or bad for one or another of the candidates in the primary or general election. That may or may not be true - but I don't really care. Political junkies tend to forget that the whole world does not revolve around the next election - and that yes - I know it's hard for some people to fathom - but some issues like racism are much bigger and more important than whatever election cycle we may be in. Racism is something that has been a part of American life for, oh, two centuries. If this presidential race is becoming a vehicle to talk about and confront and expose that racism, then that's a good thing - regardless of whichever candidates some think it may help or hurt.

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