Putting the Anal in Analysis: Obama and Black Turnout

At some point, I would really like for journalists to either do one of two things; either report the news, meaning just the facts, or when they do an analysis, do a complete analysis, and not just the half-assed bullshit reasoning that passes for "analysis" these days.

The following is from an article, For Obama, Hurdles in Expanding Black Vote from today’s Washington Post

If 95 percent of black voters support Obama in November, in line with a recent Washington Post-ABC News national poll, he can win Florida if he increases black turnout by 23 percent over 2004, assuming he performs at the same levels that Democratic candidate John F. Kerry did with other voters that year.

Obama can win Nevada if he increases black turnout by 8 percent. Ohio was so close in 2004 that if Obama wins 95 percent of the black vote, more than Kerry did, he will win the state without a single extra voter. But an increase in overall black turnout could help offset a poorer performance among other voters.

The push has also raised Democrats’ hopes of reclaiming Southern states with large black populations, such as Georgia and North Carolina, where low turnout among voters of all races has left much more untapped potential than in traditionally competitive states such as Ohio. Obama, who himself led a huge voter-registration drive in Chicago in 1992, has said he could compete in states such as Mississippi by increasing black turnout by 30 percent.

A Post analysis suggests it will take more than that to win across the South. If Obama matches Kerry’s performance among white voters and increases Democrats’ share of black voters to 95 percent, he will still need to increase black turnout in Georgia by 64 percent and in Mississippi by 51 percent to win. Virginia and North Carolina would be in closer reach, requiring increases of 30 and 36 percent, respectively.

Now, why would any one put his name on such an "analysis," let alone put his entire newspaper’s weight behind it? Can everyone else see the logical fallacies in the above? It should be easy, but in case you’re so accustomed to this sort of media garbage that you no longer notice such things, here’s a primer.

1. This is 2008, not 2004.

Now, this should be incredibly obvious to anyone with a functioning
brain, but it really seems to be a foreign concept to an awful lot of
people. In 2004, the Iraq war was quite new, Bush was still moderately
popular, we were still suffering from a 9/11 hangover, the economy was
getting worse, but it hadn’t tanked yet, Hurricane Katrina hadn’t
happened, Patrick Fitzgerald had not completed his investigation into
the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson, we had no specific
details regarding the extent of government spying activities, and John
Kerry ran the worst political campaign since Dukakis in 1988.

Plus, the right wing "base" is very, very pissed off at the
Republican Party, the GOP leadership has since been totally
discredited, and the Republican Party has nominated a man who is
despised by the far right, almost as much as Bill Clinton.

Now, in order for the above analysis to work, it requires one to
assume that Barack Obama will get roughly the same number of votes
among non-blacks as John Kerry. It assumes that, even after all of the
above are known and being considered by American voters, Obama will
receive no more votes than John Kerry in all Southern states, and that
McCain will receive just as many votes as Bush did in 2004. In other
words, it assumes that time has stood still, and that nothing has
changed since 2004.

Now, do you see the problem?

2. Blacks and whites do not vote based on the race of a particular candidate.

Barack Obama isn’t trying to increase black turnout because he’s
black. He’s trying to increase turnout in the black community, because
they’re naturally Democrats, for the most part, and they tend to be
underrepresented in the electorate. The poor are also underrepresented,
regardless of race, and Obama has been very active in those
communities, as well.

I really don’t understand the tendency of reporters to exacerbate
the separation of races, by treating them as if they’re all monolithic
voting blocs. The 5-10% of blacks who will vote for John McCain are not
‘race traitors," they are simply individual thinkers who will have
decided that McCain represents their interests better, that’s all. I
don’t pretend to understand that, but hey; diversity is what makes the
world interesting.

I also resent the implication that, somehow, Obama is going after
the "brother vote" to any greater degree than any right thinking
Democratic candidate would have. Hillary Clinton would have/should have
gone after the same voters, had she won the nomination, for the same
reason Obama is going after them; they are a core constituency that has
heretofore been underrepresented in elections past.

3. No analysis thus far has included third party candidates.

This kind of goes hand in hand with the observation that 2008 is a different kind of year. Not only do we have the now-quadrennial pointless Nader candidacy, which should siphon about a half million votes from Obama, if he’s lucky, and the Green Party’s pointless nominee, Cynthia McKinney (we’ll get to the racist nature of the Green Party’s labeling of this campaign at a future date), but we also have Bob Barr and Ron Paul.

Don’t underestimate the appeal of Bob Barr. He will siphon a lot of votes away from John McCain, especially in the South. Whether you like him or hate him, he is a true conservative with a right wing bent; and his credentials are far higher among the right wing loon Republican base than John McCain. In a year when the far right is threatening to bolt the Republican Party because they feel they’re being taken for granted, and when they party nominated a man who is not considered enough of a ingnut by most of the wingnuts, it’s not possible to overestimate the potential disruption to McCain’s already meager chances posed by a Barr candidacy. And if the Ron Paul phenomenon decides to continue in the form of an independent candidacy, well, John McCain might be looking at Goldwater-style numbers.

4. Where are the independents?

Basically, the analysis above includes a black-white/Democrat-Republican set of axes, but it doesn’t seem to take into account the role of independent voters, who increasingly are looking for the country to run as far away from Bush as is humanly possible. Independents and moderates swing elections, and independents and moderates are giving Barack Obama a much harder look than they ever gave John Kerry or Al Gore. In 1992 and 1996, Bill Clinton won about half of southern states, and Obama is actually in even better position than Bill Clinton, because the the movement for change is far more defined than in 1992.

Bottom line in all of this is, unless you’re psychic, no one knows exactly what will happen with the vote in November. But if you’re going to analyze an election, you can’t analyze one factor in isolation of all other factors. It’s actually an insult to the Obama campaign to imply that someone over there even thinks that appealing to more blacks alone will put him over the top in the South. The reason increased black voter participation could put him over the top is because of other factors that are in play this year, not JUST the increase in black votes. it could put him over the top because McCain hasn’t secured his own base, because Obama is a much more appealing candidate than John Kerry, and because the political wind is pushing the Democrats’ sails this year.

In other words, if you’re going to engage in analysis, you have to understand what you’re analyzing.

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