That President Obama lost roughly 40 percent of the vote in Democratic primaries in Arkansas, Kentuckyand West Virginia over the last two weeks has drawn massive national headlines.
Those headlines have drawn a collective eyeroll from Democrats — and many others who closely follow national politics — who ascribe the underperformance by the incumbent to a very simple thing: racism.
No, none of these Democrats are willing to put their name to that allegation — either generally or for this story. But, it is, without question the prevalent viewpoint they hold privately.
They argue that conservative white Democrats — particularly those in the South and Appalachia — don’t want to vote for an African American for president and, therefore, are willing to cast a ballot for almost anyone else up to and including an incarcerated felon.
The problem with that theory is that it’s almost entirely unprovable because it relies on assuming knowledge about voter motivations that — without being a mindreader — no one can know.
“There’s no easy or simple answer,” said Cornell Belcher, president of Brilliant Corners, a Democratic polling firm. “One man’s racial differences is another man’s cultural differences.”
What we know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that Appalachia and portions of the South — particularly those states without large African American populations — have long been hostile to President Obama.
There are any number of data points that make that point plainly.
During the 2008 Democratic presidential primary campaign, Obama lost Kentucky by 35 points and West Virginia by 41(!) points to then Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton even though both states voted late enough in the process that it was already clear Obama would be the nominee.
In the 2008 general election, only five states voted more Republican than they had four years earlier. Those five states were: Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia. (In Oklahoma and West Virginia, Obama and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry got the same percentage of the vote but Obama got less raw votes.)