How Big is the Racist “Bubba Vote”?

Former Congressman Dick Armey coined the phrase “Bubba vote” to describe the unmeasurable element of racism that many argue will sabatoge Obama on election day. He argues in a recent USA Today article that the bubba vote is invisible to pre-election pollsters because people don’t want to admit that they won’t vote for a black candidate.

Many people I talk to agree with Armey.  My own friends believe that Obama ought to be winning by at least five to ten percent on election day to cancel out the hidden racism never revealed by pre-election polling.

I disagree.

If you ask a person who he or she will vote for on November 4th, there aren’t too many racists who will say “I’m voting for Barack Obama” to hide his or her racism. He or she will just simply say “I’m voting for McCain.”

Saying that a Bubba vote will sabatoge Obama’s chances on election day is like saying the the hippie vote will sabatoge McCain’s chances on election day. Maybe so, but the bubbas and the hippies are fairly represented in the polls, regardless of their reasons.

Currently, Barack Obama is winning by 1.9% in an average of all national polls. I don’t think these numbers are inflated.

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3 responses to “How Big is the Racist “Bubba Vote”?

  1. Perhaps you underestimate the deeply rooted nature of racism. I love my family dearly, yet find myself profoundly irritated at their racial bias. Only this last weekend was I sitting with my grandmother discussing current events to hear her say specifically, “I’ve been a democrat my entire life, but I’m not sure I can vote a black man into office.” Somewhat irritated, yet fairly, I asked back, “What makes a black man less qualified to be the president than a white man?” Her response, “Nothing.” Even she seemed puzzled at her response.

    Here is the point I make. You make the case that most racists will simply say that they are voting for McCain to avoid the appearance of being racist. I disagree. I think there are a lot of people out there who might be very much Democrat at heart and wish deep down they could give their vote to their party… so much that they might even try to talk themselves into it leading up to the event. But when it gets right down to it, there will be that last moment of hesitation in the booth come election day that will provide that unmeasurable element that is referred to.

  2. Additionally, there’s an effect in survey research called the social desirability bias (not-too-scholarly-but-still-useful explanation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_desirability_bias). Even when confronted by polls claimed to be anonymous, people will react in a socially desirable way (since racism is perceived to be bad, they’ll say they’ll vote for the black person). These polling data, it must be strongly emphasized, _do_not_translated_into_actual_vote_outcomes_. As such, polling data in this particular race is nearly useless–not to mention a lot of the data falls well-within the standard deviation of the polls.

    Real life example: I live in Wisconsin and the gay marriage ban was on the ballot during the 2006 midterm elections. Not only did democrats wipe the state (trouncing even long-term incumbant republicans), but polls gave the advantage to the measure failing, albeit by a rather small margin.

    The measure passed by something like 60%-40%–a landslide _no_ data had come close to predicting. While it was socially desirable to _say_ you were against the ban (since that’s anti-gay, right?), that behavior didn’t translate into voting behavior.

  3. Pingback: Obama and the “Bradley Effect” « Josh Anderson

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