Democrat Mike Espy challenges an answer from Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith during their televised Senate debate in Jackson, Miss., on Nov. 20. (Rogelio V. Solis/Pool/AP)

Next Tuesday, voters in the state of Mississippi have the distinct honor of finally bringing the 2018 midterm elections to an end, assuming that the several still-outstanding House races have been settled by then. (Not necessarily a fair assumption.) On Election Day, neither incumbent Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) nor challenger Mike Espy (D) received a majority of votes in the state’s Senate contest, meaning one last day of voting is needed to push either candidate over the 50 percent mark.

Hyde-Smith has committed several serious gaffes ahead of the runoff, including a comment about being willing to be in the front row of a public hanging — which served for many as a grim reminder of the state’s legacy of lynchings that was particularly ill-advised given that Espy is black. But this is still Mississippi, meaning that Hyde-Smith has a distinct advantage given that she is a Republican running in a very-red state.

MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki added another interesting bit of data working in Hyde-Smith’s favor during a segment on Wednesday. He noted that Espy would likely need some white voters to win the runoff (since more voters in the state are white than black), but that Mississippi sees a wide gulf in the partisan loyalty of white and black voters. White voters in Mississippi vote heavily Republican and black voters heavily Democratic — more so than most other states.

It’s an interesting question, party loyalty by race and state. In 2016, exit polling was conducted in only a few states during the presidential race, but even there differences can be seen. In California, whites voted more heavily Democratic than Republican, but not to the degree that black voters did. South Carolina had the widest gulf that year, with a 136-point spread between white voters' preference for Republicans and black voters' preference for Democrats.


(Philip Bump/The Washington Post)

To make his point, Kornacki looked at exit polling from 2012. But we can also use exit polls from 2004, when every state was polled. In some states, the black population is too small to be statistically significant. But that year, no state had a bigger divide than did Mississippi, where whites preferred the Republican (George W. Bush) by 71 points and black voters preferred Democratic candidate John F. Kerry by 80.


(Philip Bump/The Washington Post)

In 2012, the gulf was even wider, with a 171-point spread between the partisan preferences of the races in the state.

It’s important to note that it’s generally recommended that one take the results from racial subgroups in exit polls with a grain of salt. Here, though, we’re comparing apples to apples, at least within elections.

The question of partisanship by race and state is interesting nationally. We pulled data from four polls — exit polls in 2004, 2012 and 2016 and a 50-state poll conducted by The Post and SurveyMonkey in 2016 — and made an interactive display of how white, black and Hispanic voters preferred presidential candidates in each year. The darker blue or red, the more heavily that group supported the Democratic or Republican candidate.

AK
                   
ME
           
WI
     
VT
NH
 
WA
ID
MT
ND
MN
IL
MI
 
NY
MA
 
 
OR
NV
WY
SD
IA
IN
OH
PA
NJ
CT
RI
 
CA
UT
CO
NE
MO
KY
WV
VA
MD
DE
 
   
AZ
NM
KS
AR
TN
NC
SC
DC
   
       
OK
LA
MS
AL
GA
     
HI
     
TX
       
FL
   

A few things stand out.

The first is that the density of the white vote for Republicans seems to generally correlate to how Republicans fared overall. Dark reds in the Deep South and in the plain states for example.

Another is that the density of those colors changes over time. Consider the Midwestern states, like Ohio, Wisconsin and Missouri. The shifts to more densely Republican voting among white voters — even between 2004 (when Bush won) and 2016 — is a significant part of the current political story.

A third? The variation in support for Democrats among Hispanics. In 2004, Hispanic voters in several states are identified as having backed Bush over Kerry, a controversial finding that helped boost Bush’s overall support from Hispanics to near-record levels.

But then look again at Mississippi and its neighbors. From bright red among whites to dark blue among black voters. That’s the distinction that Kornacki was pointing to — and is a problem for Espy.

Of course, the gulf was wide in Alabama last year, too. Republicans, nominating Roy Moore for the Senate, ended up losing that race. Hyde-Smith isn’t as politically toxic as Moore (if anyone is), but the point remains: That gulf by race is not destiny.