When Is It O.K. to Vote Your Race?

INSERT DESCRIPTIONPhoto taken from Choctopus.

The Times recently published a series of interesting articles about the role that race is playing in the current presidential election.

Read this one and this one, but especially read this one by Adam Nagourney, which includes this passage:

Saul Anuzis, the Republican chairman in Michigan, said he had become accustomed to whispered asides from voters suggesting they would not vote for Mr. Obama because he is black. “We honestly don’t know how big an issue it is,” Mr. Anuzis said. But Representative Artur Davis, an African-American Democrat of Alabama, said race was no longer the automatic barrier to the White House that it once was.

“There is a group of voters who will not vote for people who are opposite their race,” Mr. Davis said. “But I think that number is lower today than it has been at any point in our history.”

What’s interesting to me, and often goes unspoken, is that the “group of voters who will not vote for people who are opposite their race” may better describe black voters than white voters.

Granted, black voters often don’t have the choice of a black candidate to vote for. But consider what happened in this year’s Democratic primaries, when they did. Among black voters, Obama ran up lopsided victories against Hillary Clinton in almost every state. Here are some of the most skewed:

+ In Pennsylvania, Obama won 92 percent of the black vote and 40 percent of the white vote.

+ In Indiana, Obama won 92 percent of the black vote and 39 percent of the white vote.

+ In Illinois, Obama won 94 percent of the black vote and 62 percent of the white vote.

+ In Ohio, Obama won between 87 percent and 91 percent of the black vote* and between 34 percent and 44 percent of the white vote*.

+ In North Carolina, Obama won 91 percent of the black vote and between 33 percent and 40 percent of the white vote*.

*In some exit polls, race is paired with sex but not given as a total. In Ohio, for example, Obama did better among black women than he did among black men, and better among white men than among white women.

So in these states, several of which happen to be heavily contested in the upcoming election, more than 9 of 10 black voters voted for the black candidate, whereas anywhere from 3 to 6 out of 10 white voters voted for the black candidate.

These numbers are even more off-balance than the numbers on black-white TV viewing.

This also reminds me of the discomfort that white sports fans feel when they want to cheer extra loud for the one or two white guys on an N.B.A. team. Is that racist — or just voting your race?

Jayson Virissimo

"This is a democracy and nobody should be coerced into voting for anyone, or told that their reasons for casting their vote are invalid."-MikeM

You just conflated coercion with debate. By telling you that voting for someone because of their race is ignorant I am not coercing you to do anything. Please don't tell me that I shouldn't argue with KKK members that don't vote for Obama because he is black. Discussion is absolutely vital, especially in a democracy. And yes my vote, based on analysis of past voting records and policy, is more valid that a vote cast based on what that person ate for breakfast that morning. I agree that coercion is evil, but telling someone that they should have real reasons for voting for someone is not.


It has been fascinating to watch the media work tirelessly to instruct and thereby mitigate the "Bradley Effect" among white voters. There, however, has been no similar effort to instruct the black community not to vote primarily on the basis of their race. In fact, the media has encouraged black race-biased voting. All the excitement over the historic chance of electing a black candidate has had its intended effect. One would expect on the basis of issues that Sen. Obama would be ahead in the black community. But causality in numbers in excess of 90% can't be ignored. I'm a white Republican for Obama who can't help but be discouraged by how the media encourages the black community to vote on the basis of their race. The Bradley effect, if it ever existed has been effectively countered by the the CNN-NBC race-bias effect.

Yahya Jeffries-El

Has anyone compiled data on the "biracial/multiethnic vote?"

steve pesce

Apparently only when you're black. However, Obama is going to be equally back for all races. Obama voted for and supported the bailout to line the pockets of the thieves on Wall Street. He's going to side with the corporations over the people if and when he gets to the white house. That means he will cheat us like Bush did. Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy ride. And meanwhile, speaking of seat belts, Nader is still being blacked out of the media. There is no coverage of him at all. He’s the only one who was AGAINST THE BAILOUT. He’s the only one who will fight back against the corporations who have stolen our government and bought and paid for the two corporate parties. He’s the only one who will put the THIEVES on Wall Street behind bars where they belong and hit them with huge fines. The SNL crisis, jail. The Enron debacle, jail. Why isn't the SEC prosecuting these liars on Wall Street and putting them in jail for the damage they did to America? And he’s the only one who wanted them to pay for their own bailout. All the other candidates voted for us taxpayers to line the pockets of these crooks on Wall Street while Nader said let them pay for their own bailout with a tax on every transaction on Wall Street. And Paulson has shown that he’s a fox guarding the hen house. He showed favoritism by not bailing out Shearson, which was a long time rival of Paulson’s firm Goldman-Sachs. But he did bailout AIG which is interconnected with Goldman-Sachs, and if AIG failed they would have probably sunk Goldman-Sachs with them. Paulson is a Wall Street investment banker. He’s one of them. He is not on the side of the taxpayer and neither is congress nor the two corporate candidates. Paulson needs to be booted out on his behind. And we need a taxpayer revolt to take back our government.



Mr. Dubner grants that there are rarely black candidates but fails to think about the cause of that phenomena. The cause is of course the discriminatory effects of racism (lack of opportunity for minorities as well as outright bigotry by those not of the minority) in play with the numerical fact of black americans minority status. Voting your race as a member of an oppressed (it doesn't have to be conscious for there to be oppression) minority is not the same thing as voting your race as a member of the majority. There are different considerations. Similarly the basketball analogy doesn't hold.


Race is always going to be an issue for many people. The good thing is that the color of a person's skin is losing the importance that it had not so long ago. With an Obama presidency we will see a black family in the white house for hopefully 8 years, which will further diminish the racial divides in this country. People will put less stock in the color of a human being's skin color and more stock in character.


Gary Haffeman

I just listened to an interview with Ms. Bachmann from Minnesota, I was aghast at her veiled racism. It sounded like something out of the McCarthy era, or worse yet a KKK rally.

I said to a friend, when this campaign first started that it would come down to race,I'm afraid I'm right.


"Look at the Iowa Caucus results"

No, don't, because caucuses aren't a secret vote. Instead, look at the NH primary, where Obama went in with an 8.3 lead and lost by 2.6.

I love the quote from Harold Ickes in article 3:

“If he were white, this would be a blowout”.

Please. If Obama was white, he'd have been taken as seriously as Dennis Kucinich was.

How long did the Times reporter have to hunt around to find somebody named Glenn Reynolds?

Sean Samis

Never. Race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation; these are never relevant matters in an election for a public office. Never.


With all this "racial" victory of Obama over Clinton in the primary, have there been any studies on sexism?

I'd imagine the same stereotypical racist (like the one from #57s story, which is also listed on FiveThirtyEight), who's "Wife didn't know who she was voting for until told by her husband", would probably be odds on favorite to think a woman couldn't do a man's job.

Mind you there were white male canidates to vote for in the primary, but just as there are other presidential canidates to vote for in this election, people often feel they're "throwing their vote away" if they dont vote for one of the likely winners. I mean, he could have written in "Scooby Doo" but at that point he probably wouldn't have even voted.

mark c. rhodes

It is NEVER ok to vote your race, NEVER. In fact they should do away with all partisan political parties and groups. Also, I say NEVER as a white dude who has been for obama since Joe Biden dropped out about 20 minutes after it started. You vote for the smartest and, more importantly, the most righteouss.

Brett Dunbar

bpm @ 24

Kennedy wasn't actually the first Catholic major party presidential candidate, that was Al Smith who lost the 1928 election to Herbert Hoover.

r u kiddin?

@60 Exactly.

We have way too many problems (including racism) in this country to vote for someone based on the color of their skin. Is it a nice side-effect that we might have the first black president in our history? Sure.

Still, I would that we actually had two people running for office who would bother to say something useful instead of flinging mud and rhetoric.

Granted this doesn't offer much in the way of statistical relevance, but I think this is what is generally bothersome about the whole "voting your race" issue.


Mike P

I would actually argue that Mr. Dubner overlooks the fact that Hillary Clinton had significant black support up until the South Carolina primary when Bill Clinton was perceived to have been making negative comparisons between Obama and Jesse Jackson. That was kind of the tipping point, in my opinion.

Also, let's assume that Obama was running for president against Alan Keys (just humor me). My guess is that Obama would blow the doors off Keys. Why? My guess is that it would be because Obama better represents what the majority of black voters want, so, it's voting either based on policy differences or perhaps it's a question of party identification. I'm not denying race has something to do with black people (of which I am one) voting for Obama over Clinton, but let's not just assume that black people always vote for the black person just because they're back...if that's the case, Ken Blackwell and Michael Steele would be sitting in the governor's mansion in Ohio and Michael Steele would be the Republican senator from Maryland right now.



I don't deny the vote-your-race phenomenon is real, but it has limits.

If Condoleeza Rice was running for President as a Republican, would she get anything like the same electoral support from the black community?

jonbo in AR

Let me tell y'all something. Blacks are voting for Obama because he's black. Whites are voting for McCain because he's white. If Lieberman were running, Jews would be voting for him because he's Jewish.... in certain percentages! Some of it would be consciously, some not. The fact that Obama's leading the polls in a majority-white voting population says a little about how the racial quotient has become ameliorated over the years. Look at the Iowa Caucus results.

I'm leaning Obama right now. The McCain erratic-behavior negative thingy has influenced me a little more than the Obama not-quite-sure-who-he-is-due-to-somewhat-skimpy-record negative bit. Also scared of Palin a lot more on the Obama negative thing than I am of Obama.

Also, the idea that blacks can't be considered rascist because they're supposedly utterly powerless jellyfish-washed-up-on-a-beach is the single biggest self-serving crock of you know what I ever remember hearing.



jonbo in AR-

I did not mean that, as individuals, they are powerless. Rather, because of the way our society functions and the power structure in place, the type of racist and prejudiced acts that can be perpetrated by PoCs pales in comparison to those that are systemic and institutionalized by white people.

And, just so you know, I am white. So how am I being self-serving? I am recognizing my own white privilege and how it has impacted everyone moment of my life.

Tim Kelly

It's not OK to vote your race- PERIOD. I am shocked at the number of people who attempt to rationalize it here. It is a deep (but too common) compromise to the basic enlightenment principles that gave rise to democracy as we know it.

Do it if you choose, but for God's sake at least be honest with yourself and admit that you are giving in to your baser instincts at the expense of reason!


@ #5.

Here's a quote from the article you submitted:

"In a number of key swing states, the percentage of voters who backed Clinton and who said that “the race of the candidates” was “important” in their decision was alarmingly high"

If someone votes for a white person and says "her race was important", then I'd say it's safe to assume that person _IS_ racist.


Hmmmm... Blacks ( or black people) as "considerably more racist" based on the above numbers is a fallacy. Black people and mixed race people are sometimes called people of color simply because according to someone, we are "not white," meaning not solely of European origin and this has been considered a signifier of inferiority and unsuitablity to lead.

Surprise! Many black people have fallen for the latter belief and "we" most certainly do not simply vote our race. Au contraire. Some people may be cheered by the fact that there are many black people who say they could not vote for Senator Obama for the Commander in Chief for the same reasons as some white voters! I have been hearing black people talk since the primaries on the buses and trains in Atlanta and infamilies and meetings of all kinds. You'll not hear much about this on CNN or SNL, or even BET -- maybe Dave Chappelle!

Once again: black Americans are not a monolithic clan of people who do all the same things together, all the time and think exactly alike on all the issues based on their race. Now THAT would be a racist idea right there, if it were true. In my view, solidarity is a good, uniformity is not.

Anyway, in terms of voting patterns I would hope we all vote our enlightened self-interest with some regard for our neighbors. Black people in the US and "others" have voted for white people whenever we could vote for anyone because for the most part this is who was running. Some of you seem to have forgotten that for my grandparents voting could be a death defying act even when there were no black candidates.

Since the Voting Rights Act passed nearly half a century ago, we black people and others have had opportunities to vote for various black and other candidates with mixed results. Some of these choices have turned out to be good ones (for a time at least); some have not. I ask you, have all the white candidates worked out well for white voters? Your candidate's race may not be as protective as you might think.

What is truly important and good for democracy anywhere is that we (all the "ethnics") are finally registering and voting in record numbers in spite of all the barriers and challenges to voter participation, challenges that affect every voter by the way such as time off from work, transportation, lack of Internet voting, rightful suspicion concerning new rules and computerized processes, lack of election day registration for last minute types, and so on.

It has been my diverse "white" friends, associates and colleagues (bless them) wittingly and un- who have provided the very best education about discomfort with and attitudes about the racially/ethnically/culturally different in relatively new positions of political power and influence. According to them race "colors" just about everything in the US. You can't trust "the others" and the possibility of vengeful motives is always frightful. These freinds have shown me that racism gone underground, not openly stated, expressed or discussed is as dangerous as the open, even virulent kind. A staph infection gone deep can kill you. You had better hope the thing would come to the surface, flare up and swell so you can lance it and get rid of it with powerful antibiotics.

Does anyone remember that scene from Annie Hall in which Woody Allen, the suitor met Annie 's parents? At the dinner table all the white Protestant (or were they Catholic?) parents could see was a strange, foreign and forbidding "dark" Hasidic looking Jew sitting there instead of the small, rather inconsequential looking blond, "white," secular man actually at their table.

Let's depersonalize and compartmentalize the conversation. This always helps me see a highly charged situation a little better, and every little bit counts in these angry times. Concerning race, what is past is prologue. We all see each other through a glass darkly courtesy of the last 500 years of interaction between Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas as well as the impact of the vast and unsettling global, social, cultural and political changes of the last several decades. Mixed results.

The fear, grief and acting out shall pass, I believe, if and only if we can survive as a species the punishing internal and external gaps in education, health and wealth of the "white" Western/Northern nations and everyone else. VOTE!