The "white margin to watch"... is that the way we talk now? I find that pretty unpleasant, and it's also odd to be talking with such specificity — 61-39! — while rejecting the powerfully specific mechanism that is the Electoral College. Once you tip to a plurality in a state, it doesn't matter how many white or nonwhite voters go this way or that (except in Maine and Nebraska). So polling that ignores the Electoral College is inherently inaccurate in a close election.
The campaigns are designed around winning the Electoral College. George Bush explained it well, when challenged about his 2000 win that lacked a popular vote majority. (Despite what it says at the link, that interview took place on Dec. 5, 2000.)
You know... had this been an election on who got the most popular votes I suspect we might have had a little different strategy.Typical Bush humor. Of course, he means he would have had a completely different strategy.
For example, I might have spent more time in my own home state of maximizing the vote here. One of the reasons why the Electoral College is in place, is it forces candidates like me to go and spend time in some of the smaller states that candidates might ignore. And so I-I-you know, I understand the results. But my whole strategy was based on securing enough electoral votes to become the president.As I wrote in a law review article on the Electoral College (“Electoral College Reform: Déjà Vu,” 95 Northwestern University Law Review 993 (2001)):
Who will not admit that George W. Bush could have stirred up another half million votes by campaigning hard in Texas, a state he knew he would win, and in southern California and upstate New York, states with large numbers of voters where he could not expect to achieve a plurality?But there's no equivalent safeguard precluding a racial strategy. You can concentrate efforts on winning huge majorities of particular groups. There's something unpleasant about that, so there is something of a safeguard in the way Americans rebel against racializing politics. You can't go too far without losing the good opinion of people whose votes you need.
But you can go kind of far. Obama only needs 39% of the white vote. Supposedly. Ignoring the Electoral College, which does complicate matters, but I assume the Obama (and Romney) strategists are doing the appropriate calculations — for example, in Wisconsin, a swing state with a relatively low percentage of black and Hispanic voters. If winning Wisconsin is determinative, 39% is not the key number. But surely they know about the real, complicated game of racial politics in the United States.