Mississippi is Not the "New New Hampshire"
6:00 AM, Feb 25, 2011 • By JAY COST
On Wednesday, Nate Silver – in a piece playfully entitled “Is Mississippi The New New Hampshire?” – presented an interesting analysis of Gallup’s recent data dump on statewide changes in President Obama’s job approval. Silver rightly notes that the president’s job approval – measured against his 2008 vote – has ticked up slightly in several (mostly Southern) states. Meanwhile, his position in the South relative to the rest of the nation appears to have improved substantially. (You can get the gist of Silver’s claims from this easy-to-read chart.)
From these observations, Silver goes on to opine:
So, Silver’s claim is that changes in President Obama’s absolute and relative job approval suggest that his future presidential campaign might want to start looking South, because under certain conditions it could conceivably win some of these Deep Southern states.
I disagree with Silver’s conclusions. His findings about changes in Obama’s job approval are better explained by the peculiar political dynamic of the Deep South, rather than an actual improvement in his political standing.
First of all, a significant methodological issue. Comparing the Gallup poll directly to actual election results is a problematic, apples-to-oranges comparison. Gallup is a poll of all adults; by definition, voters, a subset of the adult population, decide elections. This could make a big difference in many ways. For instance, we should be careful in evaluating states where whites are heavily “over-represented” in the electorate relative to the population at large and they vote heavily Republican. In these states, sampling the adult population should mitigate Obama’s decline in job approval. Looking over Silver’s chart, that might explain why the president declined more nationwide than in Alaska, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah – where whites were heavily over-represented in the electorate and gave McCain at least 65 percent of the vote in 2008.
Next, let’s think a little bit more about how President Obama’s job approval can change. Some groups, like independents, are going to drive that change while others, like white Republicans and African Americans, are not. Alter the balance of a state’s political composition between these (and other) groups, and Obama’s job approval becomes more or less vulnerable to alterations in the national mood.
This could be a factor in the Deep South, which, as the following chart details, has more Republicans and African Americans, and fewer independents, than your average swing state or the nation writ large.