The racial divide, then and now

As South Carolina goes to the polls, will the media remember the racial polarization of 2004?

Published January 26, 2008 2:40PM (EST)

As Democrats in South Carolina go to the polls today, the mainstream media will be reminding us incessantly that Palmetto state voters are divided among racial lines.

The Washington Post, explaining that the "recent focus on has stirred considerable angst" in Barack Obama's "inner circle," notes that an MSNBC-McClatchy Newspaper poll out this week showed a wide racial divide among South Carolina Democrats. Among African-American voters, the poll had Obama at 59 percent, followed by Hillary Clinton at 25 percent and John Edwards at 4 percent. Among white voters, Edwards led with 40 percent, followed by Clinton at 36 percent and Obama at 10 percent.

The New York Times says Obama's strategists "worry" that all the discussion about race has "driven whites away from his candidacy." "If the trend materializes in the voting," the Times says, "his ability to transcend race could come into question and pose complications in the more than 20 states that vote on Feb. 5."

While it's true that a racial divide could spell trouble for Obama in states where African-Americans represent a smaller percentage of the electorate, there's one semi-relevant point of comparison we probably won't be hearing much today: Exit polls from the 2004 presidential race showed that George W. Bush got just 11 percent of the black vote nationwide -- 88 percent went to John Kerry -- and we don't remember too many next-day headlines marginalizing his victory on the grounds of racial polarization.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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