Having grown up in the age of urban machine politics, I pay close attention to "ethnic voting." There are those who think those days are long gone, but I believe that ethnic voting remains one of the most important factors in American politics. So I am somewhat surprised that I yet to find any racial or ethnic breakdown of the Democratic Party primary vote. (Please provide email address of website with such information, if available.)
My attempt to analyze the vote by race and ethnicity follows:
My first point is that of course the Democratic Party Primary nomination was decided by African-American voters (let us call it the black vote). Using the 2004 Presidential election vote count as a reference point, approximately 7 million blacks voted in the primaries. Media reports on state-by-state exit polls over the course of the primaries indicated that Barack Obama received between 80% - 90% of votes cast by blacks. If those numbers are correct, Obama ran up a 5.6 to 6.3 million vote lead over Hillary among black voters.
On the same basis, approximately 30 million white, Hispanic, Asian or "other" voters cast ballots in the primaries. Both Democratic contenders finished the primaries with approximately 18 million votes. Ms. Clinton seems to have received about 17 million votes and Mr. Obama about 12 million. Clinton seems to have beaten Obama almost 3 to 2 amongst non-black voters, and that's Barack's first problem. He must find a way to convert almost all those voters to his own cause because in the 2004 election George Bush received 58% of the white vote on his way to victory. If McCain were to exceed that, he'd almost certainly win the Presidency.
McCain also has an opportunity with Hispanic voters. In 2004, they split 53% - 44% in favor of Kerry. Just as Irish, Italians and Jews jockeyed to make their way up the American ladder in the thirties, so blacks and Latinos are struggling to get a foothold now. (See the June 26th New York Times "Some predominately black gangs... are in a constant battle with members of Latino-dominated gangs, creating tensions between blacks and Latinos in South Los Angeles.") If this is the case, and the Kerry-Bush percentages are reversed, McCain wins 53% of the Hispanic vote and probably wins the election.
There is similar ethnic rivalry between blacks and first-generation Asians (see Sonny Carson leading boycotts against Korean merchants in Brooklyn), and while Kerry won the Asian vote 56%-43% over Bush in 2004, I have real doubts that Obama will do as well there.*
Rest assured that both political parties and every major media outlet is considering everything I've written above as they begin to make their plans for the general election. I expect you'll begin to read and hear about all this sometime after the conventions. Political correctness will probably force more delicate phrasing, may blunt all bluntness, but I do not for a minute believe that question of race and ethnicity have disappeared from the consciousness of American voters.
Many of my friends tell me that I'm a relic of a different age; that young people "don't think that way anymore". I simply reply, "it all depends on how many times they've had their lunch money stolen." (See "Grade School Violence" WCAU NBC Channel 10 Philadelphia 2007.)
There is one caveat to all this -- poverty trumps ethnicity as a factor determining voter preference. In 1932 as the Depression began, Jews, Italians, and Irish all voted against Herbert Hoover. If in 2008 unemployment continues to rise, if the stock market continues to decline, if the dollar continues to sink and if gas prices continue to rise, voters will vote their pocketbooks rather than their prejudices and Obama will glide into the Oval Office.
* My sources for the statistical estimates in this piece were: CNN, Roper and Real Clear Politics
From Real Clear I got the total number of votes cast in the Democratic primaries. Their estimates, including Iowa, Nevada, Maine and Washington (caucus states), calculate that a total of 35,900,000 votes were cast for Obama and Clinton. Four percent of the votes were cast for other candidates, bringing the total vote to approximately 37 million.
CNN.com 2004 election exit polls revealed that 88% of black voters voted for John Kerry, 11% for George Bush. Roper reports that 11% of all voters in 2004 election were black, that's 13.3 million. If Roper's numbers are correct, 88% of the black electorate was eligible to vote in the Democratic Party primaries. I have assumed that they voted in the primaries in exactly the same percentages as whites did, although this primary race may have had greater interest for them, since, for the first time, they had an African American candidate for whom to vote.
Now to the arithmetic: if American voters are spilt about 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, if 11% of American voters are black, and, if 88% of blacks are Democrats, then approximately 19% of the 2008 Democratic primary voters were black. That would be 7 million blacks among the 37 million total voters in this year's primary.