Michelle Obama booed at NASCAR race. Was that to be expected?

Michelle Obama booed at NASCAR? That can't be too surprising, right? Maybe not, considering only 30 percent of NASCAR fans identify as Republicans.

Alan Diaz/AP
First lady Michelle Obama watches the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla., where she was booed by fans on Sunday.

Michelle Obama and Jill Biden got booed at a NASCAR race in Florida on Sunday, in case you haven’t heard. Now, questions of civility and first ladies aside, our question is this: What did they expect? Isn’t auto racing, you know, a Republican-leaning activity, especially in the South? Why were they there?

Because in political terms NASCAR is a target-rich environment, that’s why. And overall NASCAR fans are not as GOP-oriented as you might think.

First off, let’s back up and acknowledge that Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Biden were at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the name of a charity, Joining Forces, which promotes the hiring of veterans. Perhaps they hoped the association with the military would bring them a warm reception. They weren’t there passing out “Reelect Barack” stickers, after all.

But to some Republicans, the first lady is a symbol of an administration overreaching. They bristle at her emphasis on eating right and exercising as just another example of government sticking its nose into activities it has no business getting involved in.

Thus Rush Limbaugh took the unprecedented step of praising the reception given the first and second ladies.

“NASCAR people ... know that in their hearts, the Obamas don’t like them. We’ve taken notice of this,” said the radio entertainer on his show.

Well, we can’t speak to the composition of that particular Florida crowd. But perhaps Mr. Limbaugh would be surprised to learn that NASCAR fans as a whole aren’t Republican, after all.

Yes, 30 percent of NASCAR adherents identify themselves as leaning to the GOP, according to a lengthy survey of the subject released this summer. But 29 percent say they’re Democrats.

This finding is consistent with some previous surveys of which other conservative commentators are aware. In 2008, the conservative writer and activist S.E. Cupp in an article on NASCAR’s own website noted that the sport’s “fans vote 35 percent Republican and 28 percent Democratic – a separation of only 7 percentage points, hardly a convincing argument for NASCAR’s political leanings."

Other attributes of NASCAR audiences are heavily studied because, well, they’re an attractive merchandising opportunity. Surprise, surprise – they’re not redneck beer-swillers who thrill to “Dukes of Hazzard” reruns.

Or at least, not that many of them are. NASCAR’s own data show its fans to be 60 percent male and 40 percent female. Twenty percent are minorities. Their income levels and age are pretty similar to the income levels and age of the US population as a whole.

In fact, NASCAR’s fan base is a fairly good representation of the nation as a whole, in terms of demographic characteristics.

Yes, Sunday’s race was in the South. But if you look at the overall picture, Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Biden might have expected a better reception. At the least, contrary to Limbaugh’s assertion, they got booed by individuals who didn’t like them – not an entire fandom. 

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