The white vote for Obama, by county & correlates

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A friend of mine who was looking at the distributions on obesity and diabetes wondered about their political correlations. To do that and add anything new it seems that it would be best to estimate the white vote for Barack Obama in 2008 by county. This is how I did it:

1) I looked at the exit polls for each state, which has breakdowns by race for each candidate.

2) Since the white vote probably varies more county-by-county than the minority vote, especially the back, I used the state level exit polls and assumed that the minority vote in every county could be predicted by the state level exit poll. So for example, in New York the exit poll suggest that 100% of blacks voted for Obama. So I would weight appropriately.

3) I also weighted by national turnout numbers. In other words, whites were a little overrepresented in the electorate, blacks equal to their demographic weight, and Asians and Latinos underrepresented. So:

% Obama in county = (White turnout)(White %)(White proportion) + (Black turnout)(White %)(Black proportion) + (Latino turnout)(Latino %)(Latino proportion) + (Asian turnout)(Asian %)(Asian proportion)

Many states did not have results for ethnic minorities in the exit polls, so the white vote estimate is identical to the real results in many counties (the correlation between my estimate and the real returns is on the order of 0.99-0.98 north of 85% or more non-Hispanic white). In places like Mississippi where most everyone is either black or white, we can probably be sure that blacks voted well in excess of 90% for Obama, I think the estimate for whites is probably pretty good. The main issue is with Latinos, who I suspect seem to vary quite a bit more than blacks (in fact, they probably tend to follow whites in voting except that they’re more Democratic all variables controlled (again, I had to discard some counties were negative proportions pop up because Latinos are more Republican locally than on the state level).

Fist some maps, then some correlations. Again, note that red is below and blue above whatever threshold I’m using (usually median).



For the correlations, “est” means my estimate. Reduce the confidence in those correlations accordingly, as my data analysis hasn’t gone through peer review! (until you comment)

Here are the summaries for Obama vote estimate:

1st quartile = 0.2240
median = 0.3591
mean = 0.3587
3rd quartile = 0.4754

Since Democratic votes are concentrated in a few highly populous counties the low proportions are not a surprise. Lots of counties with few people are anti-Obama.

White Obama Vote (est)- White Diabetes Rate (est) = -0.26
White Obama Vote (est)- White Obesity Rate (est) = -0.29
White Obama Vote (est)- White Birth Rate = -0.17
White Obama Vote (est)- College Degree = 0.42
White Obama Vote (est)- Median Household Income = 0.28
White Obama Vote (est)- Median Home Value = 0.40

(for whites ancestry are proportion of whites, i.e., Irish/White = Irish proportion)
White Obama Vote (est)- Origins in Britain & Ireland = -0.24
White Obama Vote (est)- English = 0.08
White Obama Vote (est)- Irish = 0.37
White Obama Vote (est)- Scots Irish = -0.13
White Obama Vote (est)- American = -0.50
White Obama Vote (est)- German = 0.38
White Obama Vote (est)- Scandinavian = 0.30

Partial correlations controlling for college degree rate:

White Obama Vote (est)- White Diabetes Rate (est) = -0.30
White Obama Vote (est)- White Obesity Rate (est) = -0.29
White Obama Vote (est)- White Birth Rate = -0.20
White Obama Vote (est)- Median Household Income = 0.00
White Obama Vote (est)- Median Home Value = 0.17
White Obama Vote (est)- American = -0.46
White Obama Vote (est)- German = 0.36

Partial correlations controlling for median household income:

White Obama Vote (est)- White Diabetes Rate (est) = -0.36
White Obama Vote (est)- White Obesity Rate (est) = -0.33
White Obama Vote (est)- White Birth Rate = -0.21
White Obama Vote (est)- Median Home Value = 0.30
White Obama Vote (est)- American = -0.52
White Obama Vote (est)- German = 0.35

The correlation between the white Obama vote and the proportion of blacks within a county is in the range of -0.30 to -0.40 (on the high end), even controlling for income and such (the blacker the county, the fewer whites voted for Obama). Interestingly when I control for black proportion the German correlation for voting for Obama drops a bit to 0.26, and the American correlation drops from the other direction, -0.39. Race can explain some, but definitely not all of these inter-ethnic differences in the white vote.

Poking through demographic data, a few things always seem to crop up:

1) Texas isn’t quite like the rest of the South. It is more Republican on the federal level than racial polarization into a white and black party would predict.

2) The Latino counties in Texas are hard to fit into a model which is derived from conditions in the rest of the country. They have lower morbidity and are somewhat more conservative than Latinos elsewhere (in fact, their morbidity is lower than whites in many regions of the country). I often have to discard these counties because estimates using state level parameters are weird (in the case of white voting patterns or diabetes rates, negative values).

3) There’s stuff going on in Appalachia which needs to be explored. I’m going to analyze Appalachian counties specifically in the near future. I had assumed that aside from outliers like Asheville Appalachia was relatively homogeneous. Not so.

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7 Comments

  1. Texas isn’t quite like the rest of the South 
     
    You can say that again. Neither is Florida, in a different way (though Florida north of I-4 feels pretty generically Deep South to me – I’ve only spent extended time in Jacksonville and Ft Walton Beach, so YMMV). 
     
    It is more Republican on the federal level than racial polarization into a white and black party would predict. 
     
    Not sure what you mean by this – that the white Obama vote in TX is less than predicted simply based on the black fraction of the Texas population? Well, as you well know, Texas and Florida are unique in having (to the first order) three-cornered ethnoracial breakdowns rather than bipoloar, so I’d expect things to be different. 
     
    Also, blacks in Texas and Florida are much more concentrated in the urban areas compared to the rest of the South (not surprising since both those states had much higher rates of immigration post Civil War) – I can probably dig up some quant indices on this. 
     
    Indeed, I’d be very interested in regressing white Obama vote versus urbanization controlling for income/house price. Bet there would be a pretty consistent positive correlation. Note sure what the right index of mean urbanization for counties is … 
     
    Re the Latino majority counties (Rio Grande valley, more or less) in texas, unsurprising that they would be quite different than the rest of the country in that those places have a substantial, longstanding landowning class, which gave a different political and cultural trajectory (can’t find historical demographic data at the moment, but my content-free guess is that the population growth rates in the Rio Grande counties over 1846-mid1960s are probably much less than the other substantially Latino counties of the Southwest, but maybe not New Mexico).

  2. Not sure what you mean by this – that the white Obama vote in TX is less than predicted simply based on the black fraction of the Texas population? Well, as you well know, Texas and Florida are unique in having (to the first order) three-cornered ethnoracial breakdowns rather than bipoloar, so I’d expect things to be different. 
     
    i mean that very white areas of texas are more republican than very white areas of south. IOW, texas has some far west/great plains tendencies.

  3. I’m curious… Razib. Have you had the opportunity to travel much in the South? 
     
    I don’t have a point to make from the answer either way, it’s just that I found it odd that anyone would ever think Texas was like the ‘stereotypical’ South other than a few counties in far East Texas.

  4. houston several times. new orelans, baton rouge and nashville too.

  5. I don’t think that many would have predicted that Germans and Iowans would be two of Obama’s best white demographics, but so it apparently was.  
     
    Germans have generally been a less-conservative communitarian force in US politics. (Also anti-prohibition, back in the day). I believe that this may be partly because of 19th c. German motives for coming to the US after 1848.

  6. Partly one has to recoginze that there was a severe event that de-germanized the population WWI. My great grandfather had never gotten his second citizenship papers, so when the newspaper published a list of aliens his name appeared and his door got painted yellow (he came to the us at age 1 or 2 and was in his 50s in 1917). Perhaps a better example on a gravestone in Darmstadt Indiana, the husband who died in 1914 has a german inscription the wife who died in 1921 has an english inscription. Its only in the 1980s that german heritage came back to be allowed. The whole event was IMHO a very traumatic one for those of german heritage. This may also be a factor, since a a large number of folks came over to avoid religious differences or the draft (german not us). I might put it that the german group was less puritian than other groups (in the sense of I know whats better for you than you do for example prohibition.)

  7. Jay Cost has explored somewhat similar stuff 
     
    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/horseraceblog/2009/01/

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