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July 09, 2014 3:28 PM Mississippi “Crossover” Vote: Bigger Than a Breadbox, Smaller Than a Buick

By Ed Kilgore

So pouring salt on the wounds of Team McDaniel (and conservatives everywhere outraged that those people got to decide a Republican primary), The Upshot’s Nate Cohn and Derek Willis have looked more closely at evidence of African-American “crossover” voting in the late MS GOP SEN runoff. And it’s pretty clear it comfortably exceeded Cochran’s margin of victory:

The precinct level returns in Hinds County bolster the theory that a surge in black, Democratic turnout allowed Senator Thad Cochran to defeat Chris McDaniel, a Tea Party-backed state senator, in last month’s Republican primary runoff in Mississippi.
Mr. Cochran won by 6,693 votes. More than half — a net 3,532 votes — came from the most Democratic precincts in Jackson’s Hinds County, where President Obama won a combined 97.8 percent of the vote in 2012, according to figures released Tuesday night by the Mississippi secretary of state.
The surge in turnout was clearest in overwhelmingly black precincts; turnout sometimes increased by more than 3,000 percent over the initial Republican primary.

Extrapolating from these Hinds precincts:

The data strongly suggests that higher black and Democratic turnout covered the entirety of Mr. Cochran’s margin of victory. One in 10 of Mississippi’s Obama voters live in one of the precincts in Hinds County, where Mr. Cochran racked up half of his statewide margin of victory. Precinct-level examinations of data for other counties have not been completed, but the remaining nine-tenths of Obama voters could have easily provided the rest of the margin, and more.

This does nothing, I should emphasize, to reinforce claims that Cochran won because of illegal voting, unless you rely on the ludicrous law on the books in Mississippi limiting primary participation to those who “intend” to vote for the party in the general election. But it will enrage McDaniel supporters near and far nonetheless on grounds that appealing to black folk on the basis of anything other than offering to free them from the “plantation” of government assistance violates an unwritten Republican rule.

The Upshot analysis, however, makes a point that’s gotten lost in all the furor: the “crossover” votes were only crucial because this was a very close election. Fact is African-American voting in the GOP runoff was light by any objective standards:

Over all, black turnout was not huge. Turnout in these heavily Democratic precincts was lower in the hotly contested Republican runoff than in the noncompetitive Democratic primary earlier in June. Turnout was about 9 percent of 2012 general election levels in these precincts, compared with as much as 70 or 80 percent in the most Republican precincts.
Precinct 83, an overwhelmingly black precinct where Mr. Obama won 99.3 percent of the vote, was emblematic of the significant but still limited increase in turnout. Mr. Cochran’s vote total jumped from 35 in the primary to 204 in the runoff; in 2012, Mr. Romney drew 17 votes. Mr. McDaniel’s total dropped from six to five. Despite the increase in runoff turnout, three times as many voters participated in the noncompetitive Democratic primary, and 10 times as many voted in the 2012 presidential election.

So the “crossover” vote was bigger than a breadbox but smaller than a Buick. Had McDaniels romped to a decisive victory among the white voters his team thinks of as legitimate participants, none of this would even matter. As we should have learned from Florida 2000, you can drive yourself crazy thinking of all the woulda-shouldas in a close election.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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