I am fascinated by this race and gender dynamic that is going on in the Democrat presidential race. There is one poll suggesting that Obama's support among white voters in South Carolina has dropped to 10% and another shows it at 20%(but Reuters is less striking).
Maybe it's just South Carolina, but Florida poll seem to show the same thing. Could there be a real possibility that we will see enormous racial gaps in support for Obama and Clinton going forward? Obama supporters that I know fear that this will label Obama as the "black candidate" and doom him.
On the one hand, I am gobsmacked by this. Were I a liberal Democrat, I can't imagine wanting to support Clinton. I'd feel that she is much less likely to win the general and would bring back everything that was so distasteful about her husband. But I realize that this is influenced by the fact that we conservatives tend to really dislike the Clintons and liberal Democrats don't feel that way.
On the other hand, I am not really surprised that she has whittled away his support through negative campaigning. That's how the Clintons roll.
What I am not sure about is why it seems to be working. I can think of some hypotheses.
Whites are abandoning Obama because he is black. The idea that Obama can't be elected because he is black has never resonated with me. Why wouldn't a nation that canonizes Oprah and Michael elect a black President? Lingering white racism seems to be more salient when it comes to presuming that blacks we don't know fit black stereotypes, i.e., assuming that the black male walking toward you on the street is dangerous, etc. That doesn't really apply to people who reach a point in life where they run for President.
But the numbers are the numbers, so I can't rule it out. In that sense, I think its ironic that this is happening on the Democrat side given their self righteousness on race. My sense is that, if she proved to have political chops, Condi Rice could have walked away with the GOP nomination.
Liberal whites are abandoning Obama because they think a black candidate can't win. Perhaps the problem is that liberal Democrats are more likely to believe that America is a racist country that won't vote for a black so they are moving to Clinton on "electability" grounds. Now that would be really be ironic. Certainly the Clintons are trying to push Obama into being seen as the "black" candidate who lacks support outside the African American communutity.
Obama is losing the battle of conflicting entitlements. There is a great piece by Noemie Emery in this week's Weekly Standard. She argues that the language of race and gender is so much part of the Democratic base that they simply can't abandon it. In the economy of demographic entitlement, maybe it's ladies first. Think of Ellen Goodman's recent lament that we "were so busy celebrating history that we forgot to make it." On this view, you have to get a woman as President before you can have a black one.
Or maybe, for people who are inclined to believe that race and gender are everything, self identity matters and Democrat women are outvoting Democrat blacks. On the other hand, white men in South Carolina don't seem to be supporting Obama either. (According to McClatchey/MSNBC, they are breaking overwhelmingly for Edwards. He turns out to be the candidate of NASCAR Nation.)
Clinton is making her case to white voters but blacks are sticking with Obama out of racial solidarity. Just like Mormons might disproportionately support Romney. The thing about racially polarized voting is that it only tells you that race is a factor or is highly correlated with a factor. It doesn't tell you why we have polarization. Maybe white voters are actively choosing Hillary as the better candidate.
This brings me back to where I started. I can't believe that folks would really want her as President but, again, the numbers are what they are. Maybe it's Obama's lack of experience. Or maybe, if you are a liberal Democrat, you just like Hillary.
These aren't mutually exclusive and I suppose that there are cross tabs that shed more light on them. We'll certainly know more later today, but I have to go and do real work now.