Thursday, March 13, 2008

Another Take On Racism

Matt Bai's NYT piece on the racial politics of the election is very interesting:
Clinton’s argument highlights the most vexing contrast of this Democratic campaign. Obama, fueled by overwhelming African-American support, has trounced Clinton in most big cities, while Clinton has pounded him in outlying areas. In Ohio, for instance, Obama won only the four largest urban areas in the state, while Clinton took 70 percent of the vote in smaller cities and towns; if you took only a passing glance at the electoral maps of states like Ohio, Missouri and Texas, you would think you were looking at one of those stark red-and-blue maps from recent general elections, with Obama cast as the Democrat and Clinton as the Republican. And yet, oddly, it is Obama who has emerged as the preferred candidate of sparsely populated rural states that are thought to be more conservative, and it is Clinton who has taken the larger, industrialized states. (Obama did carry his home state, Illinois, and neighboring Missouri, but he won the latter by only a single percentage point.) To put this simply, Obama wins in major urban areas but can’t seem to win in urbanized states, while Clinton wins in rural communities but consistently loses in rural states. Why?
OK, why?
What this suggests, perhaps, is that living in close proximity to other races — sharing industries and schools and sports arenas — actually makes Americans less sanguine about racial harmony rather than more so. The growing counties an hour’s drive from Cleveland and St. Louis are filled with white voters whose parents fled the industrial cities of their youth before a wave of African-Americans and for whom social friction and economic competition, especially in an age of declining opportunity, are as much a part of daily life as traffic and mortgage payments. As Erica Goode wrote in these pages last year, Robert Putnam and other sociologists have, in fact, found that people living in more diverse areas evince less trust for others — no matter what their race.
My first question would be whether this is more of a class issue than it is one of race. But there are loads of others. Is integration wrong as a policy? Would we be better off with a live-and-let-live policy that allowed segregation, as long as it provided equal access? Finally, is Bai's interpretation of the demographics merely a spurious correlation?

I suspect that it's not, but it probably only applies to areas where there are lots of people over 50--another demographic property of the states that Clinton's carrying. In my experience racial identification, to say nothing of actual racism, is as dead as a stone with everybody under the age of 30. So Bai may be right, but he's probably only right for another twenty years or so.

Side note: This piece uses the coolest pie chart representation I've ever seen.

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