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Race and the 2008 Election, Revisited

In February, I had the chance to travel to Palm Springs, California to participate in the TED conference, where I gave a 9-minute presentation on race and the 2008 election. In particular, I looked at whether race had negatively impacted Barack Obama’s vote in states like Arkansas and Tennessee, where he performed worse than most polls anticipated and also worse, in some cases, than John Kerry had four years earlier.

My conclusion was that race probably had been a factor. In fact, it doesn’t exactly take a genius to figure this out, because in about 35 of the 50 states, the exit polls explicitly asked voters whether race had been a factor in their decision. Although there were racist voters in every state — and although there were also voters in every state who voted for Barack Obama because of his race — respondents in more rural, less educated states (like Arkansas or Tennessee) were more likely to say that they had voted for John McCain (that is, against Barack Obama) because of the race of the candidates.

This does not mean, however, that we should simply throw up our hands in the face of apparent racism. Rather, the very fact that manifestations of racism are predictable probably also implies that racism is, at least to some extent, solvable. Anyway, I won’t give away too many more details away about the talk, which is embedded below the fold.

By the way — speaking at TED was really hard! Not because I’m shy in front of an audience — I’m not particularly so — but because the standards set by others talks is very, very high and most of the people speaking there have accomplished far, far more interesting things than I ever will. For a few of my favorite examples, see here, here and here.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.