OK, that is clearly true. I just spent a big chunk of time in Alabama, I know this to be true.
But John Marshall at Talking Points Memo is understandably surprised that a recent poll shows the Fat Crybaby only 2 points ahead in Mississippi while 21 points ahead in “the fairly politically and demographically similar state of Alabama next door.”
That cannot be right, can it?
Well, yes, it can!
According to the Census Bureau, eligible voters in Mississippi are 60% white and 35% black. In next door, Alabama they are 68% white and 25% black. Also according to the census bureau, black people in both states turn out to vote at rates around six points higher than whites. (2012 turnout in both states was around 60%; 2008 turnout was 63% in Mississippi and 64% in Alabama.) That shakes out to an electorate that is 59% white and 38% black in Mississippi but 68% white and 28% black in Alabama.
Now assume that Hillary Clinton will get 95% of the black vote, 80% of the Latino vote, and 75% of the other vote in both states. (These assumptions do not really matter, but they make exposition easier.) What then needs to be true about the white vote for Clinton to receive 46% of the total vote in Mississippi but only 36% in Alabama?
Well, she would have to get 13% of white vote in Mississippi and 10% in Alabama. That is only a three-point difference. It is totally believable and certainly within the margin of error in the crosstabs. I can certainly believe it. If you give her 13% of the white vote in Alabama, her share there rises only two points; give her 10% of whites in Mississippi and her share there falls by only one point.
Let’s check this with the 2012 results. Romney won 55% in Mississippi, but 61% in Alabama Obama got only 38% of the vote in Alabama, versus 44% in Mississippi. The six point difference in the 2012 election is less than the ten point difference in the 2016 polls, but ten points is not so great as to be unbelievable.
Now, Mississippi is far from a swing state. To win there, Clinton needs to get 20% of the white vote, which ain’t gonna be easy. But that is a lower bar than in Alabama, where getting 20% of the white vote would get her only 43% of the total. In Alabama, she needs to pull in 31% of the white vote to win.
Having been in Alabama, getting to 20% (let alone 31%) feels impossible. There is some deep-seated identity voting going on, more like political parties in Trinidad and Tobago than what most would consider normal American politics. (See here for more on ethnic politics in Trinidad.)
Many white people in Alabama were super nice. Think the amused gentleman in the pink shirt. But in picking the photos for this post, I noticed a lot of photos like the second one above, where people in the background are staring at us, especially if my wife was taking the picture. (Look at the father and son directly behind us. My wife takes pictures like a fashion photographer, so we have 15 full seconds of frames: they were staring the whole time.) That does not happen in family photo albums from the northeast or Florida.
Yes, it is anecdotal, but I just do not think that it will be easy for any Democratic candidate to break the 20% barrier among white voters in Alabama (or culturally, albeit not demographically) state of Mississippi for some time to come. The WaPo-SurveyMonkey poll results are plausible. They may even hold until November. But they are not a sign that Mississippi is turning purple any time soon.
But to repeat the punchline: given the very different demographics in the two states, it is quite reasonable to believe that Clinton is only two points behind in Mississippi while being 21 points down in Alabama.