Why did two in five Democratic voters in Kentucky and Arkansas vote against President Obama in their states' primaries on Tuesday? Why did roughly the same portion of West Virginia Democrats do the same two weeks ago? Different theories have been floated. Maybe it was Obamacare? Maybe it was Obama's environmental policies? After all, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin ran an ad in 2010 when he literally shot the bill. Maybe it has something to do with gay rights? These states are very culturally conservative. Maybe those factors played a role, but it's hard to ignore one: race.
In 2008, before, obviously, Obama had a chance to enact any unpopular legislation, only 22 percent of counties in the U.S. voted more Republican than they did in 2004, the New York Times reported. As The New Republic's Alec MacGillis writes, "Keep in mind: this was at the peak of Obama's popularity... And yet he did worse in this region than [John] Kerry, who's not exactly Johnny Of The Ozarks." To understand these results, it helps to look at the numbers from the 2012 primaries in which Obama has received the biggest protest votes, as noted by Politico's Charlie Mahtesian, overlaid on a map of 2008 election results showing the few counties in the country where John McCain received a larger share of the vote in 2008 than George W. Bush got in 2004: