Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama's Race Helped Him - Maybe

If poll are to be believed, the fact that Obama is an African American actually helped him in his presidential bid; maybe. According to CNN (

"About 20 percent of voters said race was important in how they voted, and those people voted for Obama by an 11-point margin, 55 percent to 44 percent. That means more people voted for Obama because of his race than against him. So much for the "Bradley effect."

And of the 80 percent of voters who said race was not a factor in their decision voted nearly the same way, breaking for Obama 53 percent to 45 percent.

Now for some quick calculations. Among the voters that said race was a factor Obama took 55%. Compare that to the voters that said race was not a factor where Obama took 53%. Fifty-five percent (55%) is higher than 53% by two percentage points. Translation, Obama did better among people that said race was a factor meaning Obama's African American status helped him. It did not hinder his chances as many suggested it would.

Why the "maybe" if the calculations show a clear benefit? First, it requires a belief in polls to an extent that they can not be a few percentage points off. Such a belief is not shared by me. Second, two percentage points is almost certainly within the margin of error even though no such margin is mentioned. Third, from the data I have seen there is no way to tell if any potential real difference is because Obama is black or because he is not white. There is something to be said about novelty in a race, and people may have voted for Obama not because he is black, but because he was not a white male. That being the case, any non-white-male candidate would have taken the same margin (assuming no additional bias against their group).

One last takeaway; this margin, if real, does not appear to be enough to have swayed the election. Obama still would have one had he received no preference from people who believed race was a factor.


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