Michigan’s Generational Split Among African-Americans

Mitt Romney’s win over John McCain and Mike Huckabee in Tuesday’s Michigan Republican primary election received the most attention in the press. The Democratic primary election was largely overlooked, since it was uncontested–Barack Obama and John Edwards had requested that their names be removed from the Democratic party’s ballot. Hillary Clinton’s name was the only one of the three leading Democratic candidates to remain on the Michigan primary ballot.
Even though Obama’s and Edwards’ names did not appear on the Democratic ballot, Michigan’s Democratic voters still had an opportunity to express, if only indirectly, their support for their candidates: by voting “uncommitted.” Prior to the Michigan primaries, Representative John Conyers (the senior African-American congress member from Michigan’s fourteenth district) sponsored radio advertisements asking Michigan supporters of Barack Obama to vote uncommitted in the Democratic primary. The strategy appears to have met with some success. According to the Edison exit polls, 23% of those who voted in Michigan’s Democratic primary were of African-American heritage, and 68% of them reported voting “uncommitted.” The exit polls indicate that Clinton received only 30% of the Black vote in Michigan’s Democratic primary.
If the uncommitted vote among the African-Americans in Michigan reflects a preference for Obama, then Michigan may be a harbinger of the upcoming South Carolina Democratic primary on January 26. The Michigan exit poll numbers indicate that Clinton and “uncommitted” drew disproportionately from across the generations of African-American voters. The exit polls indicate that nearly all of the youngest (ages 18-29) African American voters cast their vote for “uncommitted”; nearly one in eight (13%) of the uncommitted African-American vote came from this age group, while this age group accounted for less than 1% of Clinton’s African-American support. Clinton, on the other hand, drew disproportionately from middle-aged African-Americans (ages 30-59) with 87% (vs. 69% for uncommitted) of her African-American support from this age group. Finally, the exit polls indicate that both the Clinton and uncommitted vote among African-Americans came about equally (13% vs. 18%, respectively) from the older age group (age 60 and older).
Although it is not crystal clear, since Mr. Obama’s name was not on the Michigan Democratic primary ballot, the Michigan exit poll data indicate that it is at least conceivable that there is a generational split in the African-American community. Younger African-American voters appear to have strongly favored Obama, while Clinton drew her support disproportionately from among middle aged African-American voters.