A look at exit polls from the Mississippi Democratic primary

Survey results show a sharp racial divide in voting and unusual Republican support for Hillary Clinton.

By Alex Koppelman
Published March 12, 2008 1:14AM (EDT)

The winner of Mississippi's Democratic primary was no surprise, but the exit poll results do provide an interesting snapshot into the minds of voters and the makeup of the electorate.

If the exit polls are to be believed -- at this point in the night it's still early enough that numbers may change, though probably not dramatically -- turnout by white voters was surprisingly high. Though it seemed as if African-Americans might make up as much as 60-70 percent of the electorate, the actual racial breakdown of voters, according to the exits, split down the middle. Forty-nine percent of voters were white and 49 percent were African-American.

Still, candidate preference was sharply polarized along racial lines. Hillary Clinton won among whites, capturing 73 percent of the white vote to Barack Obama's 26 percent. But Obama won by an even larger margin among African-Americans; he took 90 percent of the African-American vote, while Clinton managed only 10 percent.

Mississippi also showed a couple of voting patterns that were different from what we'd seen in exit polls from earlier states, like Ohio. Respondents have been asked whether the race and gender of the candidate were important to their decision. In Ohio, Clinton won a larger proportion of those who said yes. This time around, Obama won both those who answered yes and those who answered no, but won bigger among those for whom race was important -- 62-38 -- than in the other group, which he took 57-42. Similarly, in Mississippi Obama won both the group of voters who did not consider gender to be important and those who did, but he climbed to a bigger victory among the latter demographic. Those who said gender was important broke for Obama 68-32, while those who said it was not voted for him 55-45.

In open primaries, Obama has traditionally done better among Republicans and independents than Clinton has, but on Tuesday, Clinton won big among Republicans. Thirteen percent of the total electorate was Republican; they went for Clinton 77-23. Obama took independents, who accounted for 17 percent of voters, 51-48.

Finally, the exit polls provide some potentially revealing data about the feelings of Mississippi voters toward Republican nominee-in-waiting John McCain. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said they had a favorable opinion of McCain -- Clinton was the big winner among those voters, 62-37. Sixty percent of those surveyed had an unfavorable opinion of McCain; that group broke strongly for Obama, 71-29.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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