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.