May 13 2008
09:24 am
By: Brian A.

If polls are correct, Senator Clinton will win the West Virginia primary today by a hefty margin. Such an outcome would be in line with a larger trend that bloggers such as DHinMI have noted: Senator Obama has failed to gain any traction whatsoever in Appalachia.

Why is this? A common theory being tossed about is "racism." Is it that simple? Or is there a more complex explanation?

bizgrrl's picture

A common theory being tossed

A common theory being tossed about is "racism."

Is racism just an easy excuse for losing Appalachia?

I am not sanguine about racism in America; racism permeates almost every facet of life around Detroit, my home town.

Could it be they just like Clinton better? Could it be they hope for a time like the 90s? Could it be they like Clinton's healthcare plan? Could they believe Clinton has shown strength in times of adversity? Could it be they believe Clinton cares? Could it be they think Clinton has more experience? Could it be they think Clinton could win the general election? Could it be they think Clinton would make a good President?

Brian A.'s picture

Could it be they just like

Could it be they just like Clinton better?

Obviously they did. But the question ("why?") still stands.

Look at the maps in the above link. Counties in Eastern VA, NC, SC went for Obama. Counties in the mountains went for Clinton. It's quite a pronounced disparity. Almost like the East Tennessee (GOP)/ rest of Tennessee (mixed) distinction. Only in this case the contrast is between two candidates within a single party, rather than a larger ideological gap. That makes it more difficult to understand.

Brian A.
I'd rather be cycling.

Rachel's picture

I don't really think it's

I don't really think it's too hard to understand. Clinton does better nationwide with working class folks. West Virginia is full of them.

rocketsquirrel's picture

no, she's just better at

no, she's just better at pandering to working Americans, white Americans. (her words.) Lovely how the Clintons can take simple demographics and spin them into race baiting, then call foul when you call them on it.

How nice.

"Senator Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again." Hillary Clinton.

And when you say, "Clinton does better nationwide with working class folks," I assume you can back that up. Because nationwide, she's behind by about 700,000 votes. She's behind in total delegates. She's behind in superdelegates.

"Better" in upside down world? Or I guess the only folks voting for Obama are scofflaws and layabouts, not working Americans?


If she's so much better among "certain" demographics, why is she not ahead nationally?

Rachel's picture

Geez, vitriol much? I'm

Geez, vitriol much? I come not to praise Hillary, nor to bury her, just to state some facts. I saw the stats about working class folks voting for Hillary, but don't have them at my fingertips and I'm heading out. Will look for them later tonight.

The bigger question is why does she do better among this group? (She does better among older Americans too, as Obama does among young people, but those are pretty easy to explain.) I think that answer is complex. I'm sure racism is a bit of a factor, but I would bet that Obama benefits a bit from sexism too. Another factor is probably that Hillary is a known factor - and that combats the "not from around here so we don't trust 'em" factor. Also, the economy was good in the 90s when Bill was president; it's not so good now.

I guess the only folks voting for Obama are scofflaws and layabouts, not working Americans?

Yeah, because you know, that's exactly what I said.

If she's so much better among "certain" demographics, why is she not ahead nationally?

That's just a dumb question.

rocketsquirrel's picture

"just to state some facts."

"just to state some facts."

vitriol? no, just tired of people claiming "facts" while ignoring reality.

fact is, a lot of working class Americans have voted for Obama, regardless of pollsters and pundits. He has been ahead of Hillary in the popular vote since January, and ahead in the pledged delegate count since February (Super Tuesday). He pulled ahead in superdelegates this week. source: trends (ABC trend graphs via AmericaBlog).

Hillary has been losing ground (eg. losing) since February. People need to accept that reality and move on, instead of claiming she's doing better with this group or that group and moving the goalposts. Nationally, she's in the tank. If she were anyone other than a Clinton, this would be over.

And we need to move on, not just for the nominee, but for all dems up and down the slate, nationally and locally, who need to boost their fundraising...while Hillary continues her Huckabeean quest.

Rachel's picture

For some reason you're

For some reason you're turning this discussion into me defending Hillary and you attacking her. I don't understand what that's about. You don't have much to gain from it. I voted for Hillary, but calling me a supporter would be a stretch, and I'm not about to defend some of her compaign tactics.

I'm more interesting in hoping I can find reasons to defend Appalachia from the charge of blanket racism. Which gets us back to the point of this thread, which was to discuss why Hillary does better in Appalachia, not to defend her, attack her, urge her to get out or stay in, or accuse one another of "ignoring reality."

To that end, I pointed out that Hillary is doing better nationally among working class Americans (not working Americans, as you know perfectly well) and older folks (Hispanics too, I guess). Obama does well among African Americans, young people, and better educated, more upper class folks.

These kind of patterns happens in just about every election. It's nothing new.

BTW, why do you think Hillary is doing well in Appalachia? Is it all racism?

And now I really, truly have to go.

rocketsquirrel's picture

Rachel, she turned this


she turned this discussion with her abhorrent quote about "working americans, white americans." I'm not making this about you at all. This is all Hillary.

she made it about race with those words. that is my point, and if you call her on it, you get attacked. and she did it directly toward voters in Appalachia, and specifically upcoming primaries in WV and KY. That is classic race baiting.

and my apologies if my ire seemed directed at you, but when you said you had stats on working class voters favoring Hillary, that just feeds into this meme, which I tried to debunk with Obama's national trend (with record turnout, I might add) since Super Tuesday, irrespective of demographic.

bizgrrl's picture

Chill! she [Clinton] turned


she [Clinton] turned this discussion with her abhorrent quote about "working americans, white americans." I'm not making this about you at all. This is all Hillary.

The question is:

Why has Senator Obama has failed to gain any traction whatsoever in Appalachia?

It appears your answer is:

Clinton uses "classic race baiting."

rocketsquirrel's picture

Bizgrrl, That's pretty


That's pretty irresponsible to take someone's comment about one candidate and juxtapose it as an answer to a question about another candidate.

To answer your question with my own answer: I haven't followed Obama's trending in WV, so I don't know whether he has gained, lost, or stayed in neutral. I know Hillary is favored heavily in WV. I do know Obama did better than expected in WNC. I assume that still counts as part of Appalachia. He won Buncombe and Watauga Counties by about 11 points, and won NC as a whole by 16 points. He didn't do as well in east Tennessee, but he did carry Chattanooga/Hamilton County. Hillary won TN by 13.

Oh, Appalachia!

gonzone's picture

Only in Appalachia

Your statement ignores the fact that the Appalachians are not the only place with lots of "working Americans" Rachel.
Obama has won many more places where there is a great preponderance of "working class" voters than Hillary.
Plain and simple fact.
Look out west.
Only the Hillary campaign claims otherwise and that is not true.
It is true that they stress "white, working Americans" which can easily be seen as code for ignorant racists.
There has to be another, better, more accurate explanation than that "working Americans" like Hillary better. That dog won't hunt.

"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."
Hunter S. Thompson

Up Goose Creek's picture


I've heard from people in their early 20's(!) who support Clinton because they are nostalgic for the economy of the 90's. I'll bet they are nostalgic for lower gas prices as well.

I never thought I'd see a balanced budget in my lifetime, you could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard that the US budget had a surplus. Seems like ancient history now.

Not that HRC would balance the budget or Obama wouldn't, just that she seems more of a known factor.

Less is the new More - Karrie Jacobs

Sean_Braisted's picture

In most primaries,

In most primaries, candidates typically have pockets of strength and weakness. Obama's strength is in the Northwest states like Washington/Oregon to Minnesota/Wisconsin, with everything in-between.

Hillary's strength is in West Virginia.

There are a lot of theories, some involve race, class, education, etc...but its impossible to say for sure. 3 or 4 months ago Obama's campaign released a memo which showed which states they'd win and lose, and with the exception of Rush Limbaugh's win in Indiana, the map has been pretty dead on.

Sean_Braisted's picture

Err...Hillary's strength is

Err...Hillary's strength is in Appalachia.

R. Neal's picture

Hillary's strength is in

Hillary's strength is in West Virginia.

And California, and New York. You know, reliable blue states. And Ohio and Pennsylvania, the states you have to win to get in the White House. And Florida if they'd had a real primary. And a few reliable red states like TN.

Sean_Braisted's picture

By "strength" I was

By "strength" I was referring to massive leads. Obama has massive leads in the Northwest, Hillary has massive leads in Appalachia (which, sans California, touches all those states you mentioned). In most of the other states, the races have been much closer.

Andy Axel's picture

And a few reliable red

And a few reliable red states like TN.

Not counting 1992 or 1996...

The one thing that Tennessee does reliably is vote for the winner. (I'll allow exceptions for those last two since they weren't "won" per se, but you get what I mean.)


"It's gettin' so a businessman can't expect no return from a fixed fight. Now, if you can't trust a fix, what can you trust?"

Rachel's picture

Here's one of the better

Here's one of the better analyses of the Appalachian thing I've seen.

gonzone's picture


"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."
Hunter S. Thompson

Andy Axel's picture

Err...Hillary's strength is

Err...Hillary's strength is in Appalachia.

Which is still part of America, last time I checked. Maybe someone has a different map than I do.


"It's gettin' so a businessman can't expect no return from a fixed fight. Now, if you can't trust a fix, what can you trust?"

Sean_Braisted's picture

Nobody is denying that Andy,

Nobody is denying that Andy, but the notion that her victories in Appalachia are more important than Obama's victory in other parts of the country, is the point of contention.

Good on her that she's found a place that loves her, unfortunately, this isn't the early 1800s and she needed to expand her base in order to win. Both candidates are remarkably close in terms of votes and delegates, Obama just happens to have had a slightly larger coalition.

gonzone's picture


Growing up there it FELT like a third world country! :-)

"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."
Hunter S. Thompson

Brian A.'s picture

There are two ways of

There are two ways of looking at this:

Why Clinton has won Appalachia


Why Obama has lost Appalachia

Thus far this discussion has focused on Clinton. But looking forward, with Obama as the presumptive nominee, it's interesting to consider the latter and its general election implications.

Does this mean he has little chance of winning WVA, NC, TN, and VA? What about OH?

Brian A.
I'd rather be cycling.

bizgrrl's picture

Does this mean he has little

Does this mean he has little chance of winning WVA, NC, TN, and VA? What about OH?


Somebody's picture

non sequitur

Would someone please show a statistical correlation between states won in a primary race, and states won in the general election? That alleged correlation is at the core of the "Hillary Clinton would be the stronger nominee" argument, which continues to be made in the face of her trailing in number of votes, delegates, super-delegates, and states won in the primary races, and in the face of polling that currently shows Obama leading McCain in a head-to-head, while Clinton fails to do so.

I don't think there's any statistical correlation that says because a primary candidate won a particular state, they will carry it in November. I think that's a foolish argument. If you take Ms. Clinton's argument to logical ends, the DNC should change its rules to say "let's run the primaries only in some big states, some states that were considered swing states last time around, and a smattering of small states that represent one part of the Democratic base to the exlusion of others and call it a day."

Primaries are measurements taken on one end of the political spectrum. The general election always becomes a whole new ballgame. By any measurement that doesn't require spin or changing the rules, Obama has about tied up the Democratic nomination, just as McCain has done with the Republican nomination.

Let's move on, make up, and begin the real debate.

bill young's picture


Best I can figure there is no link to primary elections
& general elections..other than a candidate has to win
the nomination to get to the general.

For example,somebody's got to win the Knox County Democratic
presidential primary but a Democratic presidential nominee
hasn't carried Knox County since FDR in 1940.

gonzone's picture


MS SKBizgirl,

My money says Obama wins three of these in the general.
You game? :-)
Maybe we need a predictions chart, kinda like a football game pool, and choose which states go red or blue.

"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."
Hunter S. Thompson

StaceyDiamond's picture


I took issue with a commentary in the last issue of Knox Voice about people voting for Hillary because she was "familiar" meant because she was white especially, if what they wanted was "change." It could also mean people were familiar with the Clinton family and liked them and that a "change" back to the Clinton days from now is still a good change.

Anonymous's picture


The unasked question is why Hillary is not gaining in the African-American vote?

Hey, would 92% African-American support for Obama indicate racism?


Anonymous's picture

It is likely BO will do

It is likely BO will do pretty much what Carter did as POTUS. That is he will appoint a lot of leftist activists to prominent executive posts where they will drop the leaden hand of government regulation on the economy. Places like West Virginia feel the effects of this much more than New Yorker's do. Take Coal mining and environmental regulation as an example. The coal industry is fighting for its life against EPA and losing even now. Imagine the tide that will hit them if BO is running the EPA and the justice department.

Elrod's picture

Screw the coal industry

The coal mining industry is completely destroying West Virginia itself. And it employs a tiny fraction of the number it employed in the past. If supporting the environment over the coal industry means losing West Virginia to the Republicans - and I think it does - then I say good riddance. I'm sick of pandering to those bastards.

gonzone's picture


I'm voting for Elrod!!

I hate what strip mining has done to the mountains of my childhood.
And, no, they don't employ very many people to do that much damage.
The mountains and it's people would have been better off if there had never been a single lump of coal in them.

"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."
Hunter S. Thompson

Factchecker's picture

What a concept

Imagine the tide that will hit [the coal industry] if BO is running the EPA and the justice department.

You mean that mountain tops will finally stop getting blown up and the water around them and air everywhere will finally get cleaner? And MSHA would again be run by referees instead of the coal industry itself? That would mean that big coal would have to play by the same rules as everyone else! (Oil too.)

Jim Rockford's picture

Obama as the presumptive

Obama as the presumptive nominee is likely to lose the election to McCain. Even though McCain is a poor candidate, Obama is worse.
Obama loses white working class men and women for specific reasons. One is that his policies hurt them to benefit others. Affirmative Action means "So Long White Boy" (as the Atlantic Monthly Strategy piece by a Dem Party guy attached to Obama memorably put it). It means specifically "No Whites Allowed" in government jobs, union promotions, government contracting, college admissions, college scholarships, and so on.
Why would any white working class voter go for Obama when his campaign is predicated on higher taxes on them to pay for more goodies for Blacks, Hispanics, at their expense. Or stuff they don't care about (save the Polar bears) but appeals to the Apple Computer crowd?
Another is Obama's long association with Wright, Ayers, Dohrn, etc, his disdain for the flag (matched with pandering by wearing it now), his weakness (as working class white voters see it) in wanting to hug and submit/surrender to Iran's Nutjob. Obama's endorsement by Hamas and the phonebanks for him in Gaza.
Last is cultural reasons. Crime hurts working class people the most, so do culturally liberal policies devaluing tradition, patriotism and so on, which provide the social glue that helps keep working families together and moving upwards. Rich liberals can afford divorce and family breakups and experimentation with drugs, crime-ridden "hip" neighborhoods because exiting them is easy with money. When you work for a living, such things mean death for any aspiration to move upwards.
Bottom line is Obama is explicitly the "Black Candidate" with 90% of Blacks voting for him, hip college kids with no responsibilities, and rich yuppies. All of whom want things from government that will make life miserable for working class whites. Again, chief among them, crime.
Democrats will test the theory that they can win with Blacks, College Kids, and yuppie professionals. I do not think they can. Certainly no working class white people in any great numbers have expressed the feeling that Obama will sacrifice his base (Blacks) for things like crime suppression, lower taxes, that benefit them. All his spending programs are aimed at Blacks or Save the Polar Bear yuppie stuff.

Rachel's picture

Yeah, yeah, yeah

Did you check the results in Mississippi's special Congressional election tonight? The Democrat won - in a Republican district that voted overwhelmingly for Bush. This in spite of a lot of RNC $$ poured into this race, and campaign visits by Dick Cheney himself.

BTW, that's the third time this year that a Democrat has won a special election in a heavily Republican Congressional election.

Somehow I think this time the Democratic nominee might appeal to more than the liberal stereotypes you're throwing about.

Andy Axel's picture

Friends don't let friends

Friends don't let friends watch Fox News...


"It's gettin' so a businessman can't expect no return from a fixed fight. Now, if you can't trust a fix, what can you trust?"

HMS's picture

Just remember, Obama won a

Just remember, Obama won a number of states and delegates PRIOR to the Rev. Wright and Bill Ayers bombshells hit which showed his character and associations. Want to guess how he would do in those states now???

Elrod's picture

He'd do even better

A SUSA poll of California voters showed they'd vote for Obama now instead of Clinton, who they supported in February.

Ayers is not a bombshell. It's a completely irrelevant story about a neighbor who donated $200 to Obama's Senate race once. I bet you could find some loathsome creeps who donated more than $200 to your favorite politician.

As for Wright, most Americans think Obama handled it well. And if there was a place where Wright would hurt the Democrats it was MS-01, where the Republican tried to tar Childers with Obama and Wright. And it backfired.

gonzone's picture


Seems the GOP can't have a presidential election anymore without a "scary black preacher" to demagogue. Just happens to be Jeremiah Wright this year. Move along, nothing new to see here.

"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."
Hunter S. Thompson

KevinHayden's picture

The micro analysis is understandable

After all, it's only been 40 years since so many primaries have taken place. But consider these points:

In general elections, it's been rare for Dem nominees to win the majority of white votes EVER SINCE the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Act were passed mid-Sixties. So of course racism plays a part in certain states.

In Appalachia, JFK did things to help and otherwise only the Clinton years boosted their economy, so OF COURSE they like the Clintons.

By age, it's the fifth oldest state demographically and Clinton always does better with the over-65 crowd.

So there's a number of reasons. But how will it be spun when the Oregon primary has Obama taking the majority of the white vote? WE have racists here, a very small percentage of Blacks, plenty of working class whites. And he's going to win them, as he did in a few states.

Ultimately, the strength of racism varies in different states. Education levels matter, as does age and other reasons.Southern Dems (and Clinton is perceived that way because Bill was) do better in the general elections in Southern and some border states like WV. As the historical record shows, that's because the party split in the Civil Rights era and so racism does, still, play a very key role. Not the only one, but it remains the pre-eminent one. (Just consider that John Edwards carried 7% in WV, as further evidence of such bias).

KevinHayden's picture

Quit speculating

There's plenty of state-by-state polls that show exactly how Obama would do against McCain. He's leading in MI, PA and CO, for example.

You'll never be able to predict general election results from primary results. Any veteran election watcher can tell you that.

And comparing Clinton to McCain or Obama vs McCain, there's only half a dozen states that vary and Clinton and Obama perform within 5 electoral votes of each other.

So save yourself a lot of speculating and just read the recent polls.

Try pollster.com or fivethirtyeight.com for the better polls and demographic explanations.

Elrod's picture

Three reasons

There are three reasons Obama has done poorly in Appalachia:

1) Uneducated, older white voters tend not to like Obama. Appalachia has a very high concentration of HS-or-less, older white voters. WV has the lowest college education rate in the country. And within West Virginia, Obama performed worst where education levels were lowest. There are all sorts of deep sociological reasons why uneducated whites don't like Obama - including race, status, whiteness, etc - but I'll leave that aside for now.

2) Appalachian voters cherish the familiar. To get elected in Blount County, it matters who your daddy knew and so on. If nobody knew your daddy, nobody knows you. And if nobody knows you, no advertising or campaigning will help. Clinton is well-known in Appalachia. Obama is not. Moreover, Clinton is more culturally familiar than Barack Obama, and in Appalachia that matters a great deal. Obama scored poorly on "trustworthiness." Why? I bet a lot of West Virginians think Obama is a secret Muslim and is lying about his religion.

3) Obama never tried to overcome these barriers. He made token appearances in WV and never went to western NC, east TN, or southwest VA. He traveled through central PA with Bob Casey for a bit but that was all. You can't win if you don't try.

Fortunately, most of America does not share these characteristics. And West Virginia is the only state that comprises them entirely. Obama will be able to overcome these issues in OH and PA, and very possibly VA and NC. TN is impossible because college education levels are low among whites even outside Appalachia.

John D's picture

WV Racism?

Remember, if they vote for Clinton, they're racist. If they vote for Obama, they're sexist.

That's the only choices the Democrats offer, be a racist or a sexist.

Bengoshi's picture

Is North Carolina racist?

Wow is there a double standard here. I have yet to see any commentator call the vote in North Carolina against Clinton, with a large African-American constituency voting for Obama, "racist." Why is this a one way word and analysis?

J Richardson's picture

Altitude affects attitude

Maybe Obama just does better with voters closer to sea level than those of us in the thin air of the mountains. Maybe it is a highlanders versus lowlanders thing like in Scotland. Or maybe it just goes back to the Civil War where those who lived in the Appalachians did not want to fight for either side (much) as they weren't slave holders.

As for Buncombe and Watauga Counties in NC, they are NOT representative of the rest of WNC. The former has both a high non-native population as well as the only concentration of blacks in the mountains while the latter has a large college population mixed with a lot of retirees.


Factchecker's picture

Biggest threat to Obama? BEARS!

All his spending programs are aimed at Blacks or Save the Polar Bear yuppie stuff.

I'm going to stop supporting him if he keeps droning on about saving those damn bears. I hate those things anyway!

A vote for a bear is a vote against us angry white racists!!

gonzone's picture


He did hit all the wingnut talking points, didn't he? :-)
Troll alert!!
As Andy said above, friends don't let friends watch Fox News.

"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."
Hunter S. Thompson

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