Wednesday, April 23, 2008


A racy race

On the morning after Senator Clinton won the Pennsylvania primary election by a margin of around 10%, I find myself pondering yesterday’s piece by Roger Simon on Mr Simon considers how many people might, when it comes down to the final poll in November, be reluctant to vote for a black man:

The Republican shook his head. “You’re missing the most important one,” he said. “Race. McCain runs against Barack Obama and the race vote is worth maybe 15 percent to McCain.”

The man I was talking to is not a racist; he was just stating what he believes to be a fact: There is a percentage of the American electorate who will simply not vote for a black person no matter what his qualities or qualifications.

How big is that percentage? An AP-Yahoo poll conducted April 2-14 found that “about 8 percent of whites would be uncomfortable voting for a black for president.”

I don’t know if 8 percent sounds high or low to you, but I was amazed that 8 percent of respondents were willing to admit this to a pollster. And I figure that the true figure is much higher.

Of course, it’s not a surprise to read that. We know that if you pick any aspect of a prospective president — ethnic background, sex, religion, age, the part of the country s/he comes from, education, even hobbies — you can find some set of people who would refuse to vote for that candidate because of it. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is... and, in fact, polls show that people would rather vote for nearly anyone other than an atheist (specifically, the worst thing to be, from an electability point of view, would be a black atheist lesbian, but I digress).

Actually, 8% sounds low to me. I’d like 0%, but the realist in me knows that, as Mr Simon says: the true figure is much higher than 8%. And yes, that 8% would admit it openly is somewhat frightening.

Nevertheless, the polls have consistently said that both Ms Clinton and Mr Obama would beat Mr McCain, though the margin has fallen from more than 5% some months ago to 1% or 2%, within the poll’s margin of error, now.[1] This despite that being female and being black are both negative points for electability — that is, more people say it would repel their vote than say it would attract it.

Does that really mean that if prejudice were eliminated, Senator Obama would win by at least 10% over Senator McCain? I don’t think it’s that simple, but it clearly does go in that direction. And the same is true with Senator Clinton — there will be those who simply will not vote for a woman. You don’t have to have any sense to have a vote.

And, by the way, Mr Simon also points this out:

The same poll, by the way, found that 15 percent of voters think Obama is a Muslim. He is, in fact, a Christian. But thinking a person is a Muslim probably does not encourage you to vote for him in America today.
It seems that the smear campaign is working.

[1] And I can’t help but wonder how much of the change is owed to the bricks that the Democrats are throwing at each other. If, for instance, Mrs Clinton convinces people that Mr Obama is not qualified to be president, then how do we expect them to respond in a poll that tests him against Mr McCain? The brick-throwing is very, very counter-productive.


lidija said...

Yup, and frankly the breakdown of the vote from PA does not bode well for Obama in other "big" states.... which makes me depressed for Dem chances this fall. But identity politics is really really hard to beat.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Well, how many of those people would vote for a Democrat anyway? Seriously?

And I totally agree with you that the Democrats are making McCain's job easier. I just hope that when the nomination is won, they can settle down to the real job. (ps - one positive effect from "the people in Indiana having no say" as you mention in another post is that the race is over by now usually and the candidates haven't been savaging each other right and left because they've forgotten the real point of the exercise...)

The Ridger, FCD said...

Also: is there any reason - real reason - to say that because Obama does poorly in a Democratic primary he will do poorly against a Republican? I didn't vote for Clinton, but I'll vote for her (holding my nose) in November if she's the candidate. For that matter I didn't vote for Obama, either, but I will.

Best Dog Videos said...

I think that Harris conducted a couple of similar polls last Fall and found that a significant percentage of voters will not vote for a woman and a significant percentage will not vote for a black man. The reality is that no matter who the Democratic nominee is, they will start out in a bit of a hole.

We just wish that qualifications were the focus rather than this other nonsense!

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