The Trail: A Daily Diary of Campaign 2008


Morning Cheat Sheet

Crunching the South Carolina Numbers

By Peter Baker
The Clinton camp would like to brush off the weekend primary in South Carolina as not really that representative because so many African Americans voted. That in essence was what former president Bill Clinton was saying when he dismissed Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's victory over New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton by comparing it to Jesse Jackson's victories in South Carolina during his runs for the presidency in the 1980s.

But in fact, the numbers don't bear that out. If half as many black voters turned out, Obama still would have beaten Clinton, albeit not by as large a margin. Let's say, for instance, that African American voters represented just 20 percent of the total electorate in South Carolina instead of the 55 percent they did -- closer to, say, their share of the New York Democratic electorate. Assuming each candidate won the same proportionate support within each racial group, then Obama still would have won the primary with 34.6 percent of the overall vote to 32.6 percent for Clinton and 32.4 percent for former North Carolina senator John Edwards.

The reason is that Obama did pretty well among white voters as well. He received 24 percent of the white vote compared with 36 percent for Clinton, according to exit polls sponsored by The Washington Post and other news organizations. So even if the white vote were much larger, as in our scenario above, he would be close enough to Clinton that his overwhelming advantage among African Americans (he won 78 percent of the black vote to her 19 percent) would still be enough to put him over the top.

Now there are all sorts of reasons this back-of-the-envelope math doesn't necessarily mean that much. The dynamics that played out in South Carolina may be much different in other states. Each state has its own particular economic, cultural, political and demographic characteristics, and the campaign dialogue may play out differently elsewhere. Plus, other upcoming states--particularly California and Florida--have large Hispanic populations and Obama saw in Nevada that Hispanic voters broke strongly for Clinton.

But the point is that Obama did not win South Carolina solely because the electorate there was disproportionately African American. Even with some of the most racially charged discussion of the campaign so far, he still extended his appeal across racial lines, at least enough to make a difference. And since he proved in Iowa that he can win even in predominantly white states, it's fair to assume he is not a candidate relegated to one demographic -- at least if he does not let the Clintons marginalize him by making him out to be the Jesse Jackson of 2008.

What is less knowable is what would have happened had John Edwards not been in the race. The South Carolina native won 40 percent of the white vote. Did he draw white votes that would have gone to Clinton had it been a two-person contest with Obama? Did he draw the "change voters" hoping to shake up Washington away from the other perceived change agent, Obama? Or did simply draw those voters who were turned off by the acrid discourse between Clinton and Obama, the "grown-up wing of the Democratic Party," as Edwards tried to term it? Hard to say, of course. The punditocracy would probably lean more toward the idea that Edwards split the white vote and therefore helped Obama. At the moment, both camps are talking with Edwards people in the expectation that he may drop out. Yet he has vowed to stay in through the convention at least to play some sort of kingmaker role.

Looking ahead to Super Tuesday a week from tomorrow, Obama obviously has to be able to win in different kinds of states with different kinds of demographics to beat Clinton for the nomination. Only in Georgia and Alabama will he find dynamics similar to South Carolina's. But he obviously can win his home state, Illinois. Now, with an endorsement coming today from Sen. Edward Kennedy, he has a good chance of winning Massachusetts as well. He could be competitive in places such as Arkansas and Tennessee. He has set up organizations in a lot of the small states that have caucuses, hoping to replicate the strategy that worked for him in Iowa. Clinton presumably wins New York and New Jersey easily enough.

A big test will be California, the motherlode of delegates. Suffice it to say, California is not South Carolina any way you play with the numbers.

Posted at 9:54 AM ET on Jan 28, 2008  | Category:  Morning Cheat Sheet
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Actually Jake D - 2 things.
1) Obama won the majority of white male voters in S.C. Hillary only won white females.
2) My senior year of high school (back in the 1800's or something) did a semester without grades.
They found that by not being graded, students tended to actually read and study MORE, especially the subjects they found most interesting. People tend to learn more without someone putting pressure on them to do so. Perhaps voting is something like that.

Obama is just as much white as he is black, and just as real as he can be. YOU and THE CLINTONS can try to make it about race, but we shall see. Go read Caroline Kennedy's New York Times article again. It'll make you feel better.
Susan MARIE Sheridan

Posted by: sheridan1 | January 28, 2008 7:05 PM

The implication of your "objective, standardized measurements" is that schools that do not have the economic means to hire better teachers, buy better and more current text books, and maintain their facilities so that they are conducive to learning end up losing even more money. Under the current No Child Left Behind policy if schools don't increase their scores on standardized tests every year they lose funds. In poorer school districts where the finances are such that they can't afford to take major steps in improving their local education system, improving test scores is a near impossibility. Thus, as with most of Bush's domestic policies, the result of his standardized-testing-based education policy is that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. I pray that Obama is successful in his efforts to rid the United States education system of such a counterproductive policy.

Posted by: gab3q | January 28, 2008 4:16 PM

Obviously Obama isn't Jesse Jackson. Obviously most whites vote for whites and that doesn't make them racists anymore than women voting for women makes them radical feminist/lesbians (exception made for Cheney's daughter). The facts are that Obama beat Hilary in a 'white' state, essentially tied her in a Northern and a Western state and clobbered her in a Southern state. Spin it how you like, that demonstrates broad appeal across America. Add to that massive enthusiasm from new, young voters who, because of the internet, are more organized then ever and we have the first 21st century campaign going on. To quote Dylan, "the old road is rapidly fading, get out of the new one if you can't lend a hand....."

Posted by: thebobbob | January 28, 2008 1:42 PM

Wow! Thanks for setting us straight that "tests are a waste of educators' time and money. Tests don't make students better . . ." Here, this whole time, we thought that objective, standardized measurements are a good thing. Let's throw out grades, too, while we are at it?

Posted by: JakeD | January 28, 2008 1:28 PM

How dare you? Obama is a strong supporter of improving education. Unlike you, he understands that tests are a waste of educators' time and money. Tests don't make students better, better teachers and better schools do (along with better parental support along the way). Obama supports merit pay for teachers, wants to recruit a new generation of teachers and provide incentives for experienced teachers to pass on their wisdom to younger, less successful teachers.

As someone who only graduated high school less than three years ago and was a top scorer on every standardized test, I consider No Child Left Behind to be the one of the most ridiculous laws ever to come out of Congress. Schools that don't meet testing standards get their funding cut off? Are you kidding me? I went to one of the BEST public high schools in the nation and our school was having issues meeting NCLB's standards because - get this - the mentally challenged kids had to take the tests too. And they dragged down our average. So we could either lose federal funding or we could screw over the mentally challenged kids. Our wonderful Congress and President at work.

And by the way, Hillary voted yes on No Child Left Behind. Now she thinks it's terrible. How inconsistent.

Posted by: Stefan74 | January 28, 2008 1:15 PM

Pete, thanks for running those numbers. Its good info to have. The hispanic vote in CA will be interesting to watch.

Posted by: bsimon | January 28, 2008 1:03 PM

To bfu:

Being an Illinois resident, I will comment on your question "did Sen. Obama unite in the Illinois Senate." The answer is yes. He worked with Republicans to pass several important pieces of legislation, including health care issues. He received support from the entire state, including downstate Illinois which is overwhelmingly white (except for St. Clair and Madison counties, and the Decatur and Peoria areas), even though he was virtually unknown outside Chicago prior to the 2004 Senate election. I thought you might be interested in the facts.

Posted by: cdonham | January 28, 2008 1:03 PM

bfu asks
"Did he unite in Illinois State Senate?"

Yes. Probably the best example is his effort to get all police interviews of felony suspects videotaped. The cops didn't want it, the GOP didn't want it, the Governor didn't want it & most of his fellow IL Senators didn't want it. But he worked with the cops to get them to sign up, he worked with his peers & convinced them to vote for it, and convinced the Governor to sign it. That's not just bipartisanship, its leadership. We need leadership in this country.

Posted by: bsimon | January 28, 2008 1:02 PM

Obama calls himself a 'uniter', just like George W Bush did. I am wondering what did he unite in the past. Did he unite in Illinois State Senate? Did he unite in US senate? How often did he cross party line? If he just talk without action, we are going to get another Bush.

Obama is a bubble.

Posted by: bfu | January 28, 2008 11:50 AM

Stick a fork in Hillary. I believe she is done. The wicked witch is dead. It's all over but the crying, only this time her tears will be real.

Posted by: maricopajoe | January 28, 2008 11:47 AM

I also meant "200 YEARS (more actually) of Presidential elections" . . .

Posted by: JakeD | January 28, 2008 11:41 AM

Back to Jesse Jackson and historical context: in 1984, Jackson garnered 3,282,431 primary votes, or 18.2 percent of the total, winning five primaries and caucuses (as squintz pointed out), including Louisiana, the District of Columbia, South Carolina, Virginia and one of two separate contests in Mississippi

In 1988, Jackson captured 6.9 million votes and won 11 contests; seven primaries (Alabama, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Puerto Rico and Virginia) and four caucuses (Delaware, Michigan, South Carolina and Vermont). For more historical context:

Posted by: JakeD | January 28, 2008 11:30 AM


You are aware that most WHITE males have voted only for WHITE male candidates in the past 200 Presidential elections, right?Of course, there were only WHITE male candidates running for most of our history, but that doesn't erase the fact that "they voted overwhelmingly for the WHITE candidate." Maybe we could cut the African-American voters a little slack?

Posted by: JakeD | January 28, 2008 11:22 AM

Barack Obama opposes educational standards and has supported terminating exit exams for high-school students in the last year before graduation. Several states have implemented exit exams, and they typically test knowledge of English and mathematics at the 8th-grade level. Failing the exam means that the student is denied a diploma. African-Americans overwhelmingly fail these exams, and high-powered lawyers (hired by African-Americans) have filed suit against the states to stop these exams.

Obama's opposition to exit exams explains his support among people without a college education. In the latest state primary (i.e., the one in South Carolina), a curious pattern arose among White voters who are 30 years old or younger. 30% of college-educated voters in this group supported Obama. However, a stunning 60% of voters (in this same group) without a college education supported Obama. As the educational level of White voters below the age of 30 decreases, support for Obama actually increases.

There are indeed national surveys indicating the opposite, but these surveys were done long before South Carolina. Within the last few weeks, a significant shift has occurred in the voting patterns. Obama's anti-education position is appealing to the morons.

Of course, African-Americans have returned to their traditional, racist attitudes: they vote only for African-American candidates. Just look at the voting pattern in South Carolina. They voted overwhelmingly for the Black candidate and ignored the other candidates.

By contrast, Asian-American voters in the state actually bothered to look at all the candidates (regardless of skin color). Asian-American support for the 3 Democratic candidates matches White support for those candidates. In other words, neither Asian-American voters nor White voters acted like the sick, perverted racists in the African-American community.

Posted by: copydesk | January 28, 2008 11:17 AM


All four of your facts are true, of course. Barack HUSSEIN Obama is different than Jesse LOUIS Jackson in many ways, but historical context is not "bad" either; it is simply historical context. I just don't see the numbers for Obama to win both California and New York, but I guess we will see in a week which prediction is correct : )

Posted by: JakeD | January 28, 2008 11:16 AM

copydesk - wow, you are so right. Thank goodness your briliant logic has set me straight. What's that I hear? Oh, I think your white sheets are done in the dryer.

Posted by: squintz | January 28, 2008 11:14 AM


I still don't see how fighting racism with racism is a good idea.

Posted by: JakeD | January 28, 2008 11:10 AM

JakeD - first of all, Jackson didn't just win SC in either the 1984 or 1988 race. He won 5 contests in 1984 and 11 in 1988. Secondly, Jackson's wins are not at all comparable to Obama's landslide on Saturday. Third, it is 2008, not 1988. Fourth, Jackson didn't win IA. Or come in within 2 points of a white candidate in NH...or 5 in NV...
What is it that you cynics don't understand about Obama's candidacy? He is rising against the most well-oiled political machine since Karl Rove because he has real, meaningful, engaged support. I am taking off from work to travel to a Super Tuesday state next week to help canvas. And I am not alone. Welcome to the new Generation of People Who Give a Damn!
He will win more delegates on Super Tuesday, regardless of SeedofChange's adorable Rezko (what good will your smear do if you don't even spell the bad guy's name right?) comment. Laughable. In an entire year, this small potatoes nonsense is the best they can dig up.
Woo! God Bless America and South Carolina!

Posted by: squintz | January 28, 2008 11:10 AM

The vote in South Carolina does indicate the shocking racism of the African-American community. To prove the existence of this racism, just look at the voting pattern of Asian-Americans. Since none of the Democratic candidates are Asian-American, we can expect that the Asian-Americans will vote on the basis of qualifications. The Asian-American vote closely followed the pattern of the White vote for the 3 Democratic candidates in South Carolina. Neither Asian-Americans nor Whites are racists.

However, an overwhelming majority of African-Americans in South Carolina and elsewhere are racist.

How can non-African-Americans fight the vicious racism exhibited by most African-Americans? Non-African-Americans should always vote against any African-American candidate. Non-African-Americans should use their votes to counteract the votes by racist African-Americans.

Posted by: copydesk | January 28, 2008 11:02 AM

All the "number-crunching" in the world didn't help Jesse Jackson secure the nomination after he had won South Carolina too -- Clinton will still win more delegates on Super Duper Tuesday -- this race is not over yet.

Posted by: JakeD | January 28, 2008 10:48 AM

The future is looking up for Obama, but if Bill backs off, Hillary might do better in the upcoming primaries. However, many are still angry after finding out that the voice that Hillary found in NH was apparently that of Bill's.

Posted by: DWSouthern | January 28, 2008 10:46 AM

Forgot to mention with reference to the above post- Obama got 50% of the young vote (19-29 years of age), of which Pew Research says 42% of that age group use the internet to make their election candidate choices. Hence the importance of the web for Obama in this victory, at least in part.

Posted by: davidmwe | January 28, 2008 10:45 AM

With the web stats that Obama was building against Clinton leading into SC, it was clear he was in for a big win.

Hillary vs. Barack - the web battle
(Web hits and Google Search Reports)

Posted by: davidmwe | January 28, 2008 10:43 AM

Hillary and Obama fans are going to be at each others throat for the few week. But at the end of it, they all need to understand, they are more powerful together.

A campaign to have them on the same ticket should start in earnest at that point.

Facts is "Clintons" know how to beat Republicans and Media. Obama knows how to get young voters and money (including Razko's :-) Just a friendly dig :-)

Posted by: SeedofChange | January 28, 2008 10:33 AM

White voters are the mystery and ultimate outcome is unpredictable. But there is an interesting statistics from SC:

Obama overall vote: 54%
Obama as C-in-C / Beating Republican: 46/48
Clinton overall vote: 27%
Clinton as C-in-C/ Beating Republican: 35/36

Therefore, a significant part of the voter in SC = (54-47)+(36-27)= 16% last night thought Obama was not ready to be commander in chief, but they voted for him for other reason. RCP average showed Obama winning by 12%, but he ended up with 27% margin.

Probably these "white" voters knew the right candidate, but did not like the tone or at least what the media projected or Hillary simply not spending time in SC ticked them. If this chunk is white, it will be devastating for Obama. Obama is the half "black candidate" or "half white" depending on what suites him on a day.

Posted by: SeedofChange | January 28, 2008 10:29 AM

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