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“Real” America Looks Different to Palin, Obama

Yesterday, at a fundraiser in Greensboro, North Carolina, Sarah Palin said the following:

We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard working very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation.

Palin refers to the fact that the cities and towns she has gotten to visit represent the “real America”. So what exactly do these places look like?

Since her coming out in Dayton, Ohio on August, 29th, Palin has held (or is scheduled to hold) public events in 44 cities according to the candidate tracker. These include all events described as “rallies”, “town halls”, “gatherings” or “discussions”, but not things like press availabilities, fundraisers or debates.

I looked at the racial composition of voting-age (18+) population in these 44 cities as according to the 2000 census.** They are, on average, 83.3 percent non-Hispanic white, 7.5 percent black, 5.2 percent Hispanic, and 4.0 percent “other”. By comparison, the US 18+ population in 2000 was 72.0 percent white, 11.2 percent black, 11.0 percent Hispanic, and 5.9 percent other. Thirty-four of Palin’s 44 cities were whiter than the US average.

Over the same interval, Barack Obama had public events scheduled in 48 distinct cities. The racial composition of these cities was 69.8 percent white, 17.4 percent black, 8.9 percent Hispanic, and 4.0 percent other. The percentage of whites very nearly matches the US average 72.0 percent; 22 of Obama’s cities were whiter than average, and the other 26 were less white than average. Obama, however, has visited cities with a relatively larger fraction of blacks than in the US as a whole.

Obama’s cities have also been a bit poorer than average, with an average median household income (as of 2000) of $37,743, as compared with the US average of $42,100. The average income of the Palin cities is $42,500, very close to the national norm.

Since white voters have historically turned out at higher rates than minorities, and since there are probably proportionately more swing voters among whites than among minority groups, one can argue that Palin’s choice of locales reflects optimal strategy. Still, the difference between her geography and Obama’s is fairly striking.

** In three cases, the candidates held rallies in townships that did not have city-level data available per the Census Bureau. In these cases, county-level data was used instead.

Also, note that some of the figures posted originally were incorrect (for Palin, they reflected the entire population rather than the voting-age population as we intended). They have now been corrected.

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