Monday, June 11, 2012

When Academia Spoofs Itself

A friend posted a link on Facebook about a study that purported to show the way racial bias was a significant setback (3 to 5 percentage points) against President Obama in the 2008 election.

The research methodology was interesting, because he used the prevalence of certain types of Google searches to see where racial animus against the President might be strongest (the idea being that people will Google things that are really on their mind, as opposed to what they tell pollsters).  Sure enough, he found that in regions likely to harbor such hatred, Obama 'underperformed' what would have been expected in 2008.

I take no issue with that idea.  It's very clear to me that there are many fellow Americans who hold despicable, contemptible, racist views.  To try to deny that would be the ultimate act of head-in-sand burial.  But as I read on, I was really looking forward to see how the author treated the net effect of Obama's race:  What would he say about people who might have been excited to see an important 'first' in America, and were swayed from the other side, or from just staying home on election day.  Here's how he treated it:
"Yes, Mr. Obama also gained some votes because of his race. But in the general election this effect was comparatively minor. The vast majority of voters for whom Mr. Obama’s race was a positive were liberal, habitual voters who would have voted for any Democratic presidential candidate. Increased support and turnout from African-Americans added only about one percentage point to Mr. Obama’s totals."
Yikes.  I may not be a Hahhvid Ph.D. (the author is studying for one there, the article notes) but I can answer this riddle:  What do Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia have in common?

Then-Sen. Obama WON those states, but in 2004 John Kerry LOST them.  Also, the author himself does some racial typecasting with that last sentence in the block quote.  What about Americans of ALL stripes who came out and were excited to see the first person of color elected President?

This was one of those great examples of someone setting out to prove something, gathering up a bunch of data, and then jamming everything into the pre-cut, pre-shaped hole to make it all fit nicely.

Just to sum up my point:  Is racism real?  Yes.  Do I dispute the author's idea that it may have cost Obama 3-5 percentage points?  No.  But does the author of this do something extremely sloppy in totally neglecting to factor in the "counter-ballast" positive effect against the original number to come out with a net figure?  Yes.  

1 comment:

C R Krieger said...

I meant to blog this and didn't.  Glad you picked it up and did a good job of picking out the weak points.

Reards  —  Cliff