The White Vote in Washington D.C.

When Republicans attack American liberalism, they prefer to use San Francisco as a punch bag. Indeed, San Francisco does constitute quite a liberal city; in the 2008 presidential election, 84.0% of the good folk of San Francisco preferred Democratic candidate Barack Obama over Senator John McCain.

San Francisco was far from the most Democratic-voting city in 2008, however. Mr. Obama’s percentage total was greater in several places; Washington D.C., for instance, pummeled San Francisco in the contest of who votes more loyally Democratic. In the capital of America, an astonishing 92.5% of voters supported the Illinois senator.

Most people who will hear this will probably start thinking something quite politically incorrect. The line of thought goes that “Washington is full of black people, all the blacks voted for Obama, so of course it voted that way.”

This is half true and half false. It is true that the capital’s black population voted uniformly for the president – something that occurs with almost all Democratic candidates. The census, however, estimates that blacks compose only 54.4% of Washington’s overall population. This may surprise a lot of Americans who think the city is all-black. Even if every single black person in Washington voted Democratic, Mr. Obama still is quite a ways off from 92.5%.

Let’s look at another place with similar demographics to Washington D.C. – Montgomery County, Alabama where the Civil Rights movement started. Like Washington, Montgomery’s population is 52.9% black. Unlike Washington (where Mr. Obama won 92.5% of the vote), however, Montgomery only gave Mr. Obama 59.3% of the vote. Blacks are not responsible for this 33% difference; there is not much variation in how African-Americans voted in both cities.

The trick is with the white population. According to exit polls, Mr. Obama won 10% of whites in the state of Alabama. The results from Montgomery County reflect this low level of support.

In Washington, however, Mr. Obama won an astounding 86% of the white vote, according to exit polls. This is how the Illinois senator was able to get up to 92.5% of the vote in Washington, which is about one-third white. If white people alone had voted in Washington, Mr. Obama would still have done better than he did in San Francisco.

It would be quite interesting to explore why whites in the capital vote so loyally Democratic. Washington, of course, constitutes the center of the federal government; it would not be unusual for much of the white population to work for the government and thus vote more Democratic. But what type of work do they do – do they deliver the mail for the Post Office, or do they run the Post Office? Is Washington’s white population composed of  mostly working-class, union-type Democrats? Or is it composed mostly of “wine-track” liberals, the type that populate cities like San Francisco and Seattle?

Whatever the answer, this statistic remains one of the most curious and interesting ones to come out of the 2008 presidential election. Indeed, until now this blogger was unaware that such one-sided Democratic voting patterns existed among whites anywhere in the nation. To get 86% of the vote anywhere is a burdensome feat. For a Democrat to get that support from whites is something that one does not see often in the United States.

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5 Responses to The White Vote in Washington D.C.

  1. SDM says:

    my fault! i was looking at Montgomery County, Maryland, which is the Montgomery County i think of when the conversation is about DC.

    Yes, conservatives in the DC area tend to live in Virginia or in further-out suburbs, as far as i can tell. (i live in northwest DC.)

  2. inoljt says:

    Hey, thanks for all the comments and reading my blog; I definitely appreciate the discussion.

    DGM – You know, you’re actually probably right; when I took a look at the exit polls, that 86% number just jumped out so much that I didn’t really look at the other stuff. Still, to think that 90% of whites in Washington have at least a B.A. and 86% of them voted Democratic in 2008 – that is a very, very unique population. I would guess all the conservatives who work at DC live in exurbs like Loudoun County or Anne Arundel County.

    SDM – I think we’re talking about two different Montgomery Counties. The one I mentioned was Montgomery County, Alabama, where Martin Luther King organized his famous boycott. Liberal Montgomery County in Maryland is quite a different creature from Montgomery County, Alabama.

    dgsinclair – Yeah, it was definitely nice talking with you. California definitely isn’t all-liberal; from Orange County to San Diego to Central Valley to the Inland Empire, there are definitely a lot of conservatives. I know some of its Republican congressmen are quite hard-line on issues like immigration. I could definitely see something like a Meg Whitman victory in California’s gubernatorial race this fall, although maybe not a Carly Fiorina victory.

  3. dgsinclair says:

    It was nice to meet you today. My blog url is As a fellow Californian, I agree that California in general, and even San Francisco, are not as liberal as many outsiders think.

    As a political conservative, I don’t feel outnumbered here – in fact, where I live in Stanislaus County, it’s about 50/50, and perhaps even more than half are actually politically conservative.

    But SF is emblematic of liberalism, both historically, and because it is one haven for gays (like Provincetown, RI), which are one highly visible and contentious issue that libs and neocons disagree on.

    So it’s understandable, even if not technically correct, to view SF as an apex of liberalism.

  4. SDM says:

    I think your math is off – as far as I can tell Obama got more than 70% in Montgomery County. He outperformed McCain something close to 3-to-1.

  5. DGM says:

    Actually, I think the answer is already in the exit polls, DC is actually pretty wealthy and well-educated (according to the exit polls, 32% of the electorate were whites who graduated college, only 3% were whites who hadn’t graduated, or 90% of white voters in DC graduated from college; this compares to the nation-at-large which had 35/39 respectively, or only 47% of white voters with a Bachelor’s Degree or higher).

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