Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The 30/30 Rule: Obama's Chances in Georgia...and across the South

Today is primary day in Georgia and to mark it Southern Political Report has an article up about Obama's chances in the Peach state in November. His success, as Hastings Wyman describes it, depends on one of the standing electoral rules in the South: the 30/30 rule. But it isn't just Obama that needs to meet the goals of attaining 30% of the white vote and having African Americans comprise 30% of voters. These have been benchmarks for all Democrats running statewide in many states across the South (give or take a few points for the differences in demographics). Wyman points out that both Gore and Kerry approached the 30% of the white vote figure in 2000 and 2004, respectively, and Obama, as a black candidate, should trigger an increase in African American turnout.

There is another layer that I would add to this particular equation. Sure, there's the Bob Barr factor and the potential, though unlikely, Sam Nunn-as-VP factor, but what's not fully explored is the likelihood of the so-called enthusiasm gap rearing its head in November. Now, at this point, the argument could be made that Obama's ability to woo Clinton voters back into the fold could potentially negate any gains Obama could get from the enthusiasm gap. I can buy that. But I'd argue that the Clinton factor is less likely to prove decisive in Georgia than elsewhere simply because the proportion of African Americans in the state (Georgia in this case) is large. If the black turnout is augment by the over half a million unregistered African Americans in the state, that could well cancel out the defection of any disgruntled Clinton supporters. Let's lay the factors out:

1) Clinton voters
2) White voters
3) Black voters

Now, if the enthusiasm gap is at play we should see an increase in black votes and a decrease in white votes. Why a decrease in white votes? There are two factors here: GOP voters not turning out as much as they have in the past and Clinton voters staying home in protest. Yes, those Clinton voters could pull the lever for McCain, but I find that a less likely result than those folks simply staying home. The question here is, does the enthusiasm gap manifest itself in a way that causes Clinton voters to say, "Hey, let's get a Democrat in the White House regardless of who it is?" That's beyond where I wanted to take this, but it is worth bringing up. Very simply, if black votes are up and white votes are down relative to where each group has been in recent cycles, the black vote would get a double bump as a percentage of total turnout. The exact same number of African Americans could turn out as did in 2004 and if the white vote dropped, the black proportion would increase. But with that black percentage likely to increase, that proportion could grow even more.

Both benchmarks, as Wyman states, are moving targets, but I'd argue that's more because of wayward Clinton voters and GOPers nonplussed with McCain. Granted, I guess I'm extending the argument to the entire region when he's focused solely on Georgia (Barr will likely tweak the numbers more there than in all but a handful of states.). In the end the one other electoral rule we can completely remove from the equation is the 20% rule (gated) that the GOP employs nationwide. I think we can all agree that McCain attaining 20% of the African American vote is out of the question in this particular election.

Obama could win Georgia, but he'll have to have things fall exactly into place to pull it off. As the map has shown the peripheral South (Virginia, North Carolina and Florida) is where Obama is likely to make some inroads. Once the discussion shifts to the Deep South, the playing field becomes a bit different and less advantageous to Obama in the process.

Recent Posts:
Can the World Position Itself for the Next President Before the Actual Election? In 2008, it won't be easy.

The Electoral College Map (7/13/08)

Guam: Why Frontload in the Primaries When You Can Do it in the General Election?


Robert said...

Jesse Jackson led some very successful registration drives in past elections. Maybe Obama could send Jackson down here to get African-American voters registered!

Josh Putnam said...

That's one way to make amends. As clever as Jackson is (I still love his comment that the 2000 GOP convention was an inclusion illusion.), he has a knack for sticking his foot in his mouth.

Robert said...

Map-lovers only need to see Jay Cost's most recent column:


Josh Putnam said...

Here's that link from Rob.