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An early prediction: Pennsylvania too racist for Obama to win

By Griffin · March 6th, 2008 · 4 Comments

Usually I wait until the day before or the day of to make primary predictions, and usually that works out pretty well.  But seeing as how I grew up in Pennsylvania and lived there for most of my life, I’m going to go ahead and say what my gut is telling me about the upcoming April 22nd contest: Hillary Clinton will win and it won’t be close.

There are a number of reasons for this, and the Politico nailed most of them today in a story titled “Pennsylvania is should-win state for Clinton“:

Like neighboring Ohio, where Clinton won 54 percent to Barack Obama’s 44 percent, Pennsylvania’s population is older and whiter than the rest of the nation. Its residents make less money than the national average, and are less well-educated. The issues that rank high on their list of priorities—like health care and the economy—are the ones on which Clinton tends to draw the most support.

And just as in Ohio, much of the state’s political establishment is aligned with Clinton, led by a popular Democratic governor who’s pulling out all the stops on her behalf.

Or as Matthew Yglesias put it:

Basically, Pennsylvania is like Ohio. The differences — more old people, fewer black people, more Hispanics — mostly cut in Clinton’s favor, with only the larger number of college graduates helping Obama. The bad news for Obama, basically, is that he needs to fight a big, protracted battle in a state that’s very demographically unfavorable to him.

But beyond that, as much as I hate to admit it, my gut tells me that Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell was right last month when he said, “You’ve got conservative whites here, and I think there are some whites who are probably not ready to vote for an African-American candidate.”  It’s a disgusting thing for an elected official to say publicly, but it’s the truth.

Maybe it’s the rich Civil War history or maybe it’s Mason-Dixon line on the southern border, but for whatever reason Pennsylvania is one of the most racially polarized states in America.  Philadelphia is mostly a metropolitan melting pot, but outside of there you have whites in one area and blacks in another, both physically and economically.

According to a University of Pittsburgh study on the disparities in Pittsburgh’s racial demographics, “Two-thirds of African-Americans (67%) would have to relocate for African-Americans and Whites to be equally distributed in the city or region.  A dissimilarity index of 60 or above is considered very high segregation.”

A demographics map of the African-American population in Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County bears this out:


If I could find a map like this of the entire state of Pennsylvania, it would have two small, dark blue dots on either end of the state– one in Pittsburgh, one in Philadelphia– and a large, unbroken swath of white everywhere else (maybe a bit of sky blue around Penn State University in the middle).

Likewise, the economic disparity between races in Pittsburgh shows a much larger disparity than the nationwide average, with African-Americans in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area (27% of the population) having just 5% of the aggregate income while whites have 92% (despite only making up 67% of the population):


In other words, Pittsburgh, like certain areas of Ohio and most other areas of Pennsylvania, is very racially polarized. And beyond the numbers and statistics, I can attest firsthand that there is a palpable tension between races throughout the state. Look no further than the fact that, according to a list by the Anti-Defamation League, Klanwatch, and other intolerance watch groups, Pennsylvania has an astounding 24 indentified hate groups in the state– more than Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and Mississippi combined.

There is a pattern developing where Barack Obama does very well in areas of the country that either have very little African-American population (Wisconsin, Alaska, North Dakota) or in areas that have a high African-American population (South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana). The theory is that in the former areas, race is barely an issue and thus people feel comfortable voting for a black candidate; in the latter areas, race is an issue, but there is a large enough African-American population to offset the votes of whites who are uncomfortable voting for a black candidate.  This pattern bodes well for Obama in upcoming states like Wyoming (March 8), Mississippi (March 11), and North Carolina (May 6).  But in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, where race is an issue but there isn’t a large enough African-American population to offset the large percentage of polarized white votes, Obama tends to do poorly.

We saw this Tuesday in Ohio, where in exit polls 20% of all voters said race was an important factor in making their decision.  And 80% of those who said race was important voted for Hillary Clinton.  Meaning 16% of all Ohio voters voted for Hillary Clinton because she’s white, while just 4% voted for Obama because he’s black.  That’s a staggering 12-point gap that, all other things being equal, would have handed the state to Obama by 2 points.  I suspect we’ll see similar, if not worse numbers in Pennsylvania.

Granted, Barack Obama has seven weeks to campaign in Pennsylvania and anything can happen.  At the least, he’ll need to keep things close enough to prevent a large windfall of delegates for Hillary Clinton.  But having lived in Pennsylvania for 25 years, I can predict with all confidence that Barack Obama has no chance to win there.

Tags: Barack Obama · Democrats · Hillary Clinton

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4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 John Connally // Mar 6, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    The USA is struggling to come to grips with a new of leader and a new type of leader who is now running to be President of the United States, a leader for the 21st century. The country is excited about the inspiration, hope, motivation, oration and audacity of the plans with which Barack Obama hopes to fundamentally the way American politics are conducted. He wants a government of transparency and ethics of the highest quality in the political process, and America has embraced him. It is not often a champion of this caliber comes along, one who can inspire, reinvigorate and restore the hope of a nation.

    His campaign strategy has been impeccable. His gentlemanly manner of stopping to help up his opponent when she is down and nearly out, brings a previously untapped civility into the political process.

    Unfortunately, his opponent does not reciprocate. The fact of the matter is, she can not win in a fair fight and rather than offering plans to help America get back on track she has chosen to resort to fear mongering and casting aspersions and just plain old outright attacking and discrediting Barack Obama and the plans he is putting forth. (No matter, the Obama for President movement is a movement which will not be stopped, not by Hillary Clinton and not By John McCain.) She has resorted to going totally negative against Obama in the few days just prior to elections. The American people want a new kind of politics, and they are ready for a change!

    She said originally the campaign should not be about gender or race, but with the help of her former President husband, they have made this election process about nothing more, not to exclude the media which helps spread every poisonous Clinton message. Bill Clinton told Wolf Blitzer on CNN that women should vote for Hillary and blacks should vote for Obama.

    I am sure that had something to do with math. Nevertheless, he said it would be a good thing. But thank goodness, non of their negative, divisive and reactionary tactics are working and the backlash has even been detrimental to the Clinton campaign.

    Hillary talks about being a fighter and being tough, but will resort to and has resorted to crying or feigning crying to get votes, playing the poor me victim of “the media picks on me and gives Barack a free ride.” She will say and do anything to get elected. She has spoken publicly of Barack in a non-Senatorial manner in Ohio, regarding fliers from the Obama campaign about NAFTA and her Insurance plan, challenging him angrily to come to Ohio for a debate, which was already scheduled for a few days later….with her comments: ”Shame on you, Barack Obama!”.

    America needs him! America wants him! America is inspired by him, despite notions by Hillary Clinton that his speeches of hope and inspiration are non-substantive, while her speeches of personal attack and aspersions cast are the voice of experience. Does America really need four more years of shady politics?

    I think not, and Obama offers a fundamentally different type of leadership. America does not want to relinquish him and let him go quietly back into his past life. They have rallied to his support in record numbers, the largest turnouts and financial contributions in the history of American politics.

    Obama has often reminded America of his opposition to the Iraq war from the beginning, his willingness to stand in opposition to the war even while making an earnest bid to get elected to the U. S. Senate, which by the way was successful and his judgment to have made the right decision pertaining to that war despite the fear mongering of George W. Bush, when most other politicians were afraid to resist and gave into to his reckless and misguided war with Iraq.

    John C. Connally

  • 2 Andrew // Mar 18, 2008 at 11:00 pm

    Hello Sir or Madame,

    Great work on your blog. I’m from Pennsylvania. I live in Philadelphia, but I just toured northeastern Pennsylvania during my spring break (for a little vacation fun) and was appalled at how open people often were about their racist views. I went to college in Easton, right on the border of the Philadelphia metro area and “Pennsyltucky” (alright – probably the first major town inside the “Pennsyltucky” T as you travel north from Philadelphia), so I was somewhat familiar with how things could be, but I was stunned by how bad it got the further north or west we went.

    I really hope we do better when the bell rings, because I myself am a big Obama supporter and I hate the thought that the state where I live being alarmingly racist. I guess I’m hoping that Philadelphia and its surrounding counties, with their more sophisticated (i.e., liberal) populations, can overwhelm the rest of the state. I’ll try to do some volunteer work for Senator Obama, but mostly I’m crossing my fingers.

  • 3 jennifer // Apr 3, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    Go Hillary! You would make the better president. Obama is not trustworthy. Look at who he chose to marry and chose as his spiritual leader. The truth is, you seek your level, and Michelle and Jeremiah Wright are his level, and it is ugly, andgry and racist. I think deep down inside Obama feels the same way Wright does. He’s just better at masking it.

  • 4 tamme // Apr 11, 2008 at 11:30 am

    what say you now haha Obama leads PA, clinton trailing behind. Everyone no matter what race, political pref., age,creed we’re all behind Obama.
    Obama ’08

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