So Santorum won in Mississippi; no surprise there. Having been raised in Sunflower County, MS (which I refer to as the deepest part of the Deep South), I just had to look at Nate Silver’s chart of real-time county by county primary election reports; at first I wasn’t able to explain what I saw, for anyone truly familiar with Mississippi would see at a glance that most of the counties with majority black populations went for Mitt Romney! My own Sunflower County is 71 percent black, and despite the fact that Santorum has won the state, Romney won my county by over 16 percent. In 69 percent black Hinds County, home of the state capital, Jackson, Romney won by 13.5 percent. Now why is this the case, especially given the fact that Romney is not only about as white-bread as it gets, but also that blacks weren’t even allowed to become Mormon priests (or is it preachers) until 1978?
First of all, 98 percent of the votes cast in the Mississippi Republican primary were cast by white voters. One percent were cast by blacks, one percent by other. This is despite the fact that it was an open primary; Democrats could vote in the Republican primary, too, and the state as a whole is 37 percent black.
So the blacks by and large weren’t voting, which is in and of itself no big surprise. But that begs the question then: why is it that Romney consistently won in majority black counties where the blacks weren’t voting, but consistently lost in majority white counties were the blacks also weren’t voting? The minority vote in the Mississippi Republican primary was not a factor at all, so why did Romney win decisively in majority black counties, but got trounced in majority white counties?
Now some might see this as a matter of Mississippi’s great racial divide; remember, this is the state where just last year, a poll showed that 46 percent of Republicans still thought interracial marriage should be banned. But in this case, as strange as it seems, racism is only indirectly responsible. Back in the 2008 election, Mississippi went for McCain, of course, but if one looks at the county by county results and compares them to the 2012 Republican primary, the similarities are obvious.
But in 2008 the blacks were much more active at the polls, whereas in the 2012 Republican primary they weren’t a factor at all, so why should there be a correlation at all between the two elections? Personally, I think the answer is simple, if somewhat nebulous. In majority black counties, even the racist whites (like some in my family) interact with blacks every day, whereas this is not the case in the majority white counties. By virtue of this interaction, of working with, talking to and going to school with the socially conservative, but politically liberal blacks every day, I’d say the whites in the majority black counties have become somewhat more favorably disposed towards blacks in general and, by extension, to liberal ideas and liberal concepts, and so were more receptive to the Father of Obamacare, Mitt Romney. Conversely, in majority white counties where the whites deal with blacks much less, they would face much less of that liberalizing influence, so to speak. And the county by county results of the Mississippi state Republican primary speak for themselves.
If one looks back at that chart again, one will see two apparent outliers, white majority counties where Romney easily defeated Santorum: in Lafayette and Oktibbeha counties. This is noteworthy because those are the homes of the two largest universities in Mississippi, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, respectively,- and I’m sure a few Republican college students were listening when Santorum referred to colleges as liberal indoctrination centers:
“Let’s look at colleges and universities,” he said. “They’ve become indoctrination centers for the left. Should we be subsidizing that?” He also criticized Harvard University. Noting that its motto is Veritas, he said that “they haven’t seen truth at Harvard in 100 years.”
So in summary, it’s nice to be able to look at a statistical question that had obviously troubling racial overtones and yet be able to see that the answer had less to do with overt racism and more to do with simple human interactions.