Friday, November 20, 2009

The Warrantless Blogtapping Program

Issue: Hawkins AGAIN Plays the Race Card

Conservative Blogger John Hawkins once again argues that blacks are racists and whites are not because 89% of black folk approve of Obama's job performance, whereas only 41% of white folk approve of Obama's job performance. Hawkins notes the seemingly large discrepancy between the two percentage statistics as some kind of evidence of his delusions about black racism and white "colorblindness" in America. It prompted Hawkins to ask:

We're incessantly told that white Americans are racist, but given how high Obama's approval numbers are amongst black Americans, doesn't it seem likely that percentage wise, there are a whole lot more racist black Americans than white Americans?
This is a common theme of Hawkins and demonstrates yet again his disingenuousness and his schizophrenia about race. And I just can't let this confused and misguided soul spew his nonsense without some kind of sensible rejoinder.

Hawkins wants to claim that the significance of the difference in Obama's job approval ratings according to racial classification is because black folks are racist in favor of a black President. He never once tries to investigate whether there is any data to confirm what he implies. But I have to ask: What's to say that this disparity is due primarily because white folks are racist against a black President? Is there any evidence to get to the bottom of this claim?

Well, I don't think there can be any clear evidence one way or the other short of asking people why they approve of a particular candidate's job performance and whether race is a factor in their determination. But I do think there is sufficient circumstantial evidence to suggest that race is less a factor for black people than for white people in evaluating Obama's (and any other President's) job performance. Moreover, I would propose that it is primarily political party affiliation and ideology that explains the patterns of job approval (as well as voting percentages), even when correlated to race. For instance, it is no secret that black voters heavily favor Democratic politicians and have always, whether such politicians were white or black, voted for and approved the job performance of such politicians. It is also no secret that white Democrats favor and approve Democratic politicians and their job performances in equally high numbers, regardless of that politician's race. The same might be said for conservative black folk and conservative white folk in their support for and approval of the job performance of conservative politicians, regardless of the race of such politicians. However, where there may be a slight correlation between race and job performance approval ratings or electoral preferences, the circumstantial evidence, such as it is, would indicate that its the white population that seems to be more influenced by race than the black population.

What is this circumstantial evidence? Well, let's just start with a comparison of job approval ratings for Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama along the racial matrix. Black support for Clinton and Obama in terms of job approval ratings are surprisingly fairly consistent. For instance, a 2001 poll conducted by ABC News and the Washington Post revealed the following:
Views of Clinton are deeply divided along political and ideological lines. Ninety-three percent of Democrats approve of his job performance; this dives to 32 percent of Republicans. Eighty-six percent of liberals approve, compared to 44 percent of conservatives; and 90 percent of blacks approve, compared to 59 percent of whites.
The current polling information that Hawkins references in terms of job approval ratings for Obama according to racial classification indicates that 89% of black people approve of Obama's job performance while only 41% of white people approve of Obama's job performance. Assuming that the data Hawkins references is accurate (and it's hard to know this because Hawkins doesn't provide any link to the source for these numbers), the evidence suggests that positive job approval ratings for a white President among blacks is nearly identical to the positive job approval ratings for a black President among blacks. Conversely, positive job approval ratings for a white President among whites (59%) is some 18 percentage points higher than positive job approval ratings for a black President among whites. So, it seems obvious to me that if you want to make the race argument as it applies to Presidential job approval ratings, the variance correlated to race in terms of Presidential job approval statistics would point to movement primarily among whites. This data would tend to debunk the notion that it is blacks who are basing approval ratings on race. The real story, then, is not in the high black job approval rating statistics for Obama (because black job approval ratings for Democratic Presidents are consistently high regardless of race), but in the lower white job approval rating statistics for Obama compared to Clinton.

[ASIDE: I'll even go further and suggest that liberal white Democrats, who generally constitute about 40-42% of the national white electorate, are the white voters less likely to abandon or qualify their support of a candidate's job performance. So, that 18% difference between Clinton's positive job approval rating among whites and Obama's is more than likely due to the movement of conservative white Republicans who could appreciate "Bubba" Clinton, but who just can't muster any support for "Hussein" Obama. Of course, that's a generalization that can't be supported by the evidence, but it makes intuitive sense to me.]

Now that's just looking at job approval ratings according to racial classification. What if we turn to the evidence of voting patterns according to racial classification? Does this tell us anything different than the data about job performance ratings about racially motivated preferences? In short, no.

Take a look at voting data broken down by race for the past nine Presidential elections dating back to 1976. This is what we get:

1976: 83% of blacks voted for Carter against Ford
1980: 83% of blacks voted for Carter against Reagan
1984: 91% of blacks voted for Mondale against Reagan
1988: 89% of blacks voted for Dukakis against Bush
1992: 83% of blacks voted for Clinton against Bush
1996: 84% of blacks voted for Clinton against Dole
2000: 90% of blacks voted for Gore against Bush
2004: 88% of blacks voted for Kerry against Bush
2008: 95% of blacks voted for Obama against McCain

That's an average of 87.2% blacks voting for Democratic Presidential candidates. And even if you take out the Obama year, the average is still a high 86.4%. That aligns closely with the 89% approval rating that Obama currently enjoys among blacks, and which John Hawkins references as some kind of evidence of racism among blacks.

So, what can we conclude from this? Well, in short, we might be able to say that, yes, Obama did appear to get a slight bump in the election that could be attributed to race. But we'd also have to recognize that his high levels of support among the black community are not all that much higher than other Democratic Presidential candidates over the past 30 years, all of whom were white. And certainly the 89% job approval rating Obama is currently receiving among blacks fits very much within the range of black support and approval of Democratic candidates regardless of race.

Regarding John Hawkins, all there is left to say is that he's once again wrong on the merits. He suggests and implies black racism because he can't seem to get beyond Obama's skin color. And what he points to as proof of this is nothing out of the ordinary in terms of black or white support for any Democratic candidate. In short, it is his obsession with race and with Obama's skin color that is distorting his impressions of things and making him, ironically, guilty of perpetuating the very identity politics that he claims to lament.


andrew said...

Blacks are blue, browns vote red?

At least that's how the numbers tend to fall around here.

Outside of this, unless you can make a chart and a graph of this information it is useless. Too many holes, and correlation does not equal causation.

Erin said...

I agree that blacks don't have an overwhelmingly high approval rating for Obama because he's black (it helps a bit, but it's not the only reason). It's true that blacks ALWAYS have an 85-90% approval rating for Democrats. Fine.

The argument you then go on to make about whites basing their approval on race is one of the shollowest I've ever read i my life. You say that because Bill Clinton (a massively popular president during extreme economic prosperity and peace) has a higher approval rating among whites than Obama does that it's about race? Do you realize that you're doing exactly the same thing that the beginning of your post mocks?

In 2007, Bush's approval rating among whites was 36 - 3 points lower than Obama's is now. ( Does that mean whites are racist against whites?


Huck said...

Erin - Did you really read my post closely? I said, first, that there is no concrete evidence one way or the other, short of asking people why they vote one way or approve of one person and whether race matters, to determine that race factors into approval ratings. Then, I said IF one goes down the path of looking at race correlated to approval ratings, IF one tries to make an argument like Hawkins was making in his post trying to link race to approval ratings, then the circumstantial evidence seems to suggest that it's movement among white voters, and not black voters, that appears to be significant in the numbers.

In essence, I'm saying that even using Hawkins race-based measures, his analysis is wrong.

As to your Bush example. Bush's approval rating among whites in that Gallup Poll you linked to is STILL 4% points HIGHER than his overall national average approval rate at that time, whereas Obama's current Approval Ratings among whites is about 10% BELOW his overall national approval rate. And even if you throw Bill Clinton back into the mix, you discover that his 59% approval among whites in 2001, like Obama's, is BELOW his 65% overall national approval rate for that year. So, you figure that one out. The message still seems pretty clear to me: if you're going to use race as the basis for an analysis here, it's among the white population where the shifts in approval seem to be the most dramatic.

The "shallowness" here is in your thinking, not in mine.