I was looking into the 2008 exit polls yesterday, when I noticed just how poorly Barack Obama faired among Southern whites in some states. Everyone is probably quite familiar with how the picture looks if we group the country into four regions; the Northeast is the most Democratic region, followed by the Midwest and the West somewhere in the middle, while the South is solidy Republican.
But we know that this doesn't tell the whole story. In particular, the "West" includes states that have vastly different ethnic makeups, rates of gun ownership, levels of urbanization, income, and education, and so forth. There's no reason that California and Wyoming ought to have similar political beliefs. But it turns out that among the white population, the same is true for the South. If we split off the "Deep South" states—the states where African-Americans account for over 25% of the population, which is not coincidentally the same set of states that Strom Thurmond carried in 1964—we end up with this picture:
In the rest of the South, a decent share of the white population was willing to vote for Barack Obama. But in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, Obama's weighted average performance among whites was less than 20 percent. Where is Obama's next-worst performance? It happens to be in the seven states where white voters came closest to matching Obama's performance in the Deep South the Southwest and rural Interior West (UT, CO, NM, TX, ID, MT, WY; home states were excluded, leaving AZ out of the mix). In these states Obama averaged a comparatively healthy 32%. Considering Obama earned 43 percent of the white vote nation-wide, this means that the gap between Obama's performance the Deep South and the Southwest/Mountain West is larger than the gap between his performance in the Southwest/Mountain West and the national average. White voters in the Deep South appear to be distinct from white voters even in other Southern states.
In addition, Gen-Y whites in the Deep South don't seem have the same enthusiasm for Barack Obama as the rest of the nation's youth. You might say "well, that's because the Obama campaign didn't target those states", but even in the untargeted Upper South states (AR, TN, KY, OK, and WV), young voters still registered higher support for Obama than their older counterparts.
I'll write about What I Think This Means, but for time being I think I will just leave this finding to speak for itself.