Election Stats

January 26, 2008

Obama’s SC win did not need a large black turnout

Filed under: obama, race, south carolina — Brian @ 9:18 pm

Obama would have won South Carolina even if only 18% of the voters were black.

SC Dem Primary (2008) by hypotheical % African American Turnout

I used these pieces of data of estimate the candidates’ results had the African American turnout been much lower:

With 99% reporting:

  • Obama had 55% (295,091)
  • Clinton had 27% (141,128)
  • Edwards had 18% (93,552)

And Exit Poll Data:

  • 55% of Democrat primary voters were African American
    • breakdown: Obama:78%, Clinton:19%, Edwards:2%
  • 45% were white or other
    • breakdown: Obama:24%, Clinton:36%, Edwards:40%

This leads to an estimate of 529,771 total voters (for the top 3), of which 291,374 were cast by African Americans and 238,397 were cast by whites (and others).

If we assume the total number of white voters is constant and reduce the black turnout (but keeping the same candidate distribution), then we can estimate what the results would have been had the black voter turnout been much lower.

In fact, the turnout could have been as low as 18%, and Obama would have still won!

It would be sad to see the Clintons or media spin or suggest Obama’s good showing in South Carolina as solely due to the very strong African American turnout or the unique demographics in SC. Even in states with an average number of African Americans (and the same candidate breakdown*), Obama would still have won. Given that a vast majority of African Americans vote for democrats, and about half the US voters are democrats, and overall about 12% of the population is African American, then 18%-20% is a decent estimate for the total fraction of Democrats voting in a democrat primary.

*(Note: this assumption that there will be the same candidate breakdown in future states is of course not true, since Edwards’ support will not likely get any better than it was in his home state of South Carolina.  The big question is: does Edwards take away votes from Clinton or Obama?)

Interestingly, Clinton was the most race-neutral candidate. She had steady support (20% of black voters and 36% of white voters), while Edwards had very strong white support (40% of white voters) and almost no black support (2% of black voters). Thus, if the black turnout was only 18%, then it would have been a virtual dead heat with all candidates getting about 33% (but Obama getting slightly more). Also, Clinton would not have won at any of the black-turnout levels.

In the 2004 Democrat Primaries in South Carolina, 47% of the voters were black, and in this primary, 55% of the voters were black. So, even with average black turnout in South Carolina, the vote would have still favored Obama by a very large margin.



  1. this is pure genius. simply because some people NEED to see this, cause they seriously doubt he’s actually getting EVERYONE’s vote. Everyone meaning “voters of all ranges of ethnic backgrounds/races”.

    Comment by blackatticus — January 27, 2008 @ 11:44 am

  2. Very nice data, and something I pretty strongly suspected. Until recently, I have been a Edwards supporter, but as I learn more about Obama, the more I like. What absolutely blows me away is how much GOP crossover he is getting so far.

    For the record, in the 90’s, I was a huge defender of Bill Clinton. I also lived in a republican strong hold, and took a beating for my support of him. This past week and a half, he has lost all respect I ever had for him. I will be contributing to Obama, and will be calling family and friends in Ohio to support him in their primary.

    Comment by infonistacrat — January 27, 2008 @ 2:34 pm

  3. These are good statistics. I mentioned something similar at my blog.

    Comment by Jamelle — January 27, 2008 @ 3:34 pm

  4. Yeah, this may statistically be true but it definitely doesn’t tell the whole story. If no Blacks voted, then Edwards would have won. All these figures show is that voting in South Carolina was done down racial lines with Blacks lining up behind Obama and Whites supporting their hometown boy, Edwards.

    Race, gender, and religion will play extremely important roles in this year’s elections.


    Comment by Parmenides — January 27, 2008 @ 3:44 pm

  5. I’m going to assume that your math is correct on that (and it looks like it is), and say that the graph is very helpful.

    Also, I think another blog noted that Obama received more votes that the total number cast in 2004, which would indicate a high level of enthusiasm for his candidacy.

    Comment by ChenZhen — January 27, 2008 @ 4:35 pm

  6. Nice Job on the site and the analysis. I don’t know how you will keep it up for those contests on super Tuesday but I hope you do. Aother area of importance in this election will be the gender vote, if you could add that data it would be helpful.

    Thanx for allowing me to post.


    Comment by rightwingdog — January 27, 2008 @ 8:13 pm

  7. Thanks for all your comments everybody.

    Here is a nice comment from at ragesoss at reddit:

    “However, Obama did better among whites in Iowa and New Hampshire, suggesting that in areas where race is less of an issue in general, race will be less of an issue in the campaign.”

    Comment by Brian — January 27, 2008 @ 11:01 pm

  8. […] great day, one observation from the exit polling was that if you only looked at white voters, then Edwards would have won, with an estimated 40% of the white vote (Clinton got ~36% and Obama got ~24%, but remember that […]

    Pingback by How will Edwards’ supporters vote? « Election Stats — January 31, 2008 @ 3:07 pm

  9. […] great day, one observation from the exit polling was that if you only looked at white voters, then Edwards would have won, with an estimated 40% of the white vote (Clinton got ~36% and Obama got ~24%). So, maybe […]

    Pingback by How will Edwards’ supporters vote? « Election Stats — January 31, 2008 @ 6:47 pm

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