July 23, 2024

Obama’s Race Problem – Real or Imagined?

Using Princeton political scientist Tali Mendelberg as a source, John Judis wrote:

…her ideas and those of other academics help to shed light on what has happened so far in the primaries and what might unfold once Obama wraps up the nomination. Their findings suggest that racism remains deeply embedded within the psyche of the American electorate–so deep that many voters may not even be aware of their own feelings on the subject. Yet, while political psychology offers a sobering sense of the difficulties that lie ahead for Obama, it also offers something else: lessons for how the country’s first viable black presidential candidate might overcome the obstacles he faces.

Now this from the AP’s Ron Fournier:

Deep-seated racial misgivings could cost Barack Obama the White House if the election is close, according to an AP-Yahoo News poll that found one-third of white Democrats harbor negative views toward blacks — many calling them “lazy,” “violent,” responsible for their own troubles.

Incendiary words.  But what are the numbers Fournier is making so much of?

Given a choice of several positive and negative adjectives that might describe blacks, 20 percent of all whites said the word “violent” strongly applied. Among other words, 22 percent agreed with “boastful,” 29 percent “complaining,” 13 percent “lazy” and 11 percent “irresponsible.” When asked about positive adjectives, whites were more likely to stay on the fence than give a strongly positive assessment.

One unasked question is, “What would blacks’ answers be to similar questions about whites?”.  That would be another interesting study to see done.

Certainly there is racism alive and well in white American voters.  One measure of blacks’ reciprocal prejudice is the 80+% number who plan to vote for Barack Obama in November.  Do 4 out of 5 black Americans truly believe that Obama would be a better leader for American than John McCain?  Unlikely, particularly considering the North Carolina Democratic primary:

He’s also the presidential candidate who they desperately long for to wipe away the horrid taste of the Bush years. But the enthusiasm is also fueled by the fact that he is black.

In exit polls in North Carolina, nearly a quarter of black voters admitted that race was the big factor in motivating them to vote for Obama.

What’s even more telling is that many blacks feel entirely justified in voting for Obama because he is black; i.e., these voters feel that their prejudice is legitimate.

That’s not universally true, of course, and one interesting example of that fact is that black voters are solidly against same-sex marriage:

The Obama/Proposition 8 situation [a measure on the November ballot that would amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage] appeals to those opposed to same-sex marriage, who are banking on a high turnout by blacks and conservative Latinos. “There’s no question African-American and Latino voters are among our strongest supporters,” said Frank Schubert, the co-campaign manager for Yes on 8, the leading group behind the measure. “And to the extent that they are motivated to get to the polls, whether by this issue or by Barack Obama, it helps us.”

Hopefully this will be the last American presidential election – or any election – where race is such a blatant issue.  Win or lose in 2008, Barack Obama has proven that a black man can lead this country.  It could even be him, if his policies were more mainstream.

Dan Riehl says something I’ve written about several times:

…were Obama conservative to Right-leaning, I’d vote for a guy like that in a minute and I suspect many other Right-siders would, too. In my opinion, were a Colin Powell or a Condaleezza Rice slightly more to the Right and able to appeal to values voters, they’d have strong backing from Right-side voters throughout much of the land, despite some existing stereotypes propagated by the media.

If only.


Marc is a software developer, writer, and part-time political know-it-all who currently resides in Texas in the good ol' U.S.A.

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