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Obama, Blackness and the Electorate
Posted by: Dale Franks on Sunday, August 17, 2008

John Heilemann, writing for New York magazine, is receiving a fair bit of criticism for an article in which he tries to explain why Obama is doing so badly at the polls.
In a year when more than 80 percent of voters think the country is on the wrong track, when Democratic registration is surging and the Republican brand is in the crapper, when McCain is on the wrong side of the public on the war and the economy, his senior moments occurring with staggering regularity—in a year like this, why is the race so close? Why isn’t Obama creaming his rival? Why is he, at best, just a few points ahead, and stubbornly stalled below 50 percent in every national poll?

The commentariat has countless other answers at the ready. Obama is aloof, elitist, lacks the common touch. He has failed to put forward a powerful economic message. He is cut from the same cloth as past Democrats seen as too weak, too effete, too liberal. His calculated dash to the center has left him looking, in the words of GOP consultant Alex Castellanos, like "an ever-changing work-in-progress...as authentic as a pair of designer jeans."

Yet, as Castellanos admits to me, all these explanations "leave many things unspoken." Or perhaps just one big thing. Obama, after all, isn't having trouble with African-American voters or Hispanic voters or young voters. Where he’s lagging is among white voters, and with older ones in particular. Call me crazy, but isn't it possible, just possible, that Obama's lead is being inhibited by the fact that he is, you know, black?
Over at Pajamas Media, La Shawn Barber characterizes this curtly as:
Lurking just below the surface of any white person’s criticism of Barack Obama is racial bias.
I'm not sure that is a fully fair characterization, because the whole Obama campaign is racially tinged. Heileman is merely pointing out something that is a very real phenomenon.

For instance, Obama receives something like 95% support from black voters. Indeed, after he began winning in the primary season, and began looking like a contender, the black vote moved decisively in his direction, to the point that he received 90% of the black vote in Mississippi.

Is it because he such wide-ranging experience? It is because he put forward far more compelling policy plans than Ms. Clinton? Or could it be perhaps, that black people want to vote for a black man for president?

If it's the latter, is anyone particularly surprised?

For that matter, what about the white voters in the caucus states where Obama won big. Those caucuses are really dominated by activists, and, on the Democratic side, by "progressive" activists. Does it come as a huge surprise to anyone that there is a strain of "progressive" thought that holds that electing a black president would be a huge victory, marking the epic arrival of...something or other? Once it became clear that Hillary Clinton wasn't as popular among democrats as she thought she was, an Obama victory became this big symbolic deal...and it wasn't because everyone was giddy at the thought of having a president from Illinois.

It seems self-evident that race plays a big part in Mr. Obama's nomination, and it will play an equally big part in the election. But, it's not Mr. Obama's blackness, per se, that is the deciding factor.

Just looking at election returns for the last 40 years or so indicates that Democrats have an electoral problem in general. The last Democrat who was elected with an absolute majority of the vote was Jimmy Carter. And it's highly doubtful that, absent Ross Perot in 1992, Bill Clinton would have been elected at all.

Conversely, in 1996, there was quite a groundswell on the Republican side to have Gen. Colin Powell run for president on the Republican ticket. He declined, for his own reasons, but there was an excitement about Powell that he surely could have capitalized upon, given a decent campaign staff, running as professional campaign. And, let's face it, that excitement didn't derive solely from the fact that he was a successful general.

But, it seems to me that the relative importance of blackness runs a second place to the actual policies and proposals of the candidate.

I think we can take a couple of things as a given: 1) that people prefer to vote for a candidate that is like themselves, and who they perceive to be "one of us"; and 2) people prefer to vote for a candidate who espouses policies they favor.

As far as I can tell, #2 is a much stronger motivator than #1. J.C. Watts got elected to Congress, as a black man representing an overwhelmingly white district. Apparently, his stated policies trumped his blackness.

Obama's problem, as I see it, is that he's trying to buck both of those currents. He is espousing policies that a majority of the electorate have disdained in the voting booth since 1976, and, in addition, he's black, i.e., for the white electorate he doesn't look like "one of us".

I think the former is far more damaging than the latter, but I think it's silly to pretend that the latter isn't part of the picture.

I also think that the closeness of the polls is troubling to the Obama camp because of the Bradley effect. Historically, black candidates have polled higher—sometimes significantly higher—than the actual election results supported. Apparently, when pollsters ask who a voter is supporting, a certain percentage of voters will tell them that they support the black candidate, out of a desire not to appear racist.

That's progress, of a sort, I suppose.

I think there's a very realistic fear that, come November, if Obama and McCain are still polling neck and neck, McCain will win the election, because the Bradley effect will doom Obama's polling performance.

At the end of the day, Obama's race, whether he mentions it or not, matters to a percentage of the electorate. It appears to matter to black voters who want to vote for a black candidate. It appears to matter to some as yet undetermined percentage of white voters who don't.

Maybe that doesn't make us look like the most tolerant country on earth (although, looking around the world, no other electorate looks any more tolerant in similar circumstances). But shooting the messenger—Mr. Heilemann in this case—doesn't make any of his observations any less true.

Race matters in this country. It shouldn't. It's unpleasant to see it. But, the first rule of accepting reality is to understand that what is, is.

It's stupid to assert that every criticism of Mr. Obama is really grounded in racism (although don't think Mr. Heilemann actually does that). But it's equally stupid to assert that no criticism of Mr. Obama is a stalking horse for his race. Because that's just not true.

The thing is, we do live in a country where one cannot openly assert that race is a disqualifying factor in an election.

And that, too, is progress, of a sort.

But let's not pretend what we've arrived in Dr. King's promised land, where every person is measured by the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin. We are, thankfully, a lot closer to it now than we were in 1966, but we aren't there yet.

And until we arrive at that destination, invidious racial discrimination will always exist. It may not be displayed right out in the open, but it's there. And it's foolish to pretend otherwise.
 
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Two things.

First, if Colin Powell were in the mix, he’d win in a landslide.

Second, the same folks complaining about racism seem to have no problem engaging in ageism. Honestly ... "senior moments"? When are they going to start cracking jokes about "early bird specials" and taking his driver’s license away?
 
Written By: Ronnie Gipper
URL: http://
"I also think that the closeness of the polls is troubling to the Obama camp because of the Bradley effect. Historically, black candidates have polled higher—sometimes significantly higher—than the actual election results supported. Apparently, when pollsters ask who a voter is supporting, a certain percentage of voters will tell them that they support the black candidate, out of a desire not to appear racist."

Check out the podcast on Polling at econtalk.org. They discuss the Bradley effect, and apparently the recent research says it doesn’t exist, or at least has not since the 80’s.

Oh, and I am not sure that everyone would describe it as you did "a certain percentage of voters will tell them that they support the black candidate, out of a desire not to appear racist" but maybe instead as "a certain percentage of voters are racist and will not vote for a black candidate but will lie to pollsters to avoid looking racist."

I would guess its a bit of both.

But I can guarantee that if I claimed to support Obama I would have a lot easier time socially. I wonder how many people support Obama in public just to get along but plan to vote against him. This has nothing to with race because in my experience this sort of social vetting comes mainly from the left. Could just be my friends.

 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
Or, he just sucks.

Why does the fact that Blacks want to vote for the first potential Black President proof that all Whites are closet racist. I mean the polling is grossly disproportionate among Blacks but I bet it was the same way between Kerry & Bush.

The last guy that was going to transition us to the soc!alist & internationalist utopia was John Kerry. He didn’t win either. Against Bush for that matter.

Seriously, John Kerry lost to a Bush who’s popular depiction is as chiphitler. Now a industrial strength version of the same policies are running against a perceived Moderate/Maverick. He isn’t going to do well.

And I believe the Bradley effect works both ways. People who won’t vote for Obama for non-racial reasons will say they will to the pollster to avoid the appearance of being racist.

Race matter some but I don’t believe its as bad as depicted. Perhaps it matters more among Blacks who’ve never seen a Black President. But I think you’re underestimating the Democrat’s ability to get too greedy and pick a candidate that embodies far left thinking as perhaps the biggest reason that Obama losing.

Its ironic though. If race is going to lose it for Obama. It will be the same people who voted for John Kerry last time. Because all the people who didn’t vote for John Kerry regardless of being White last time are not going to vote for him when he’s Black for the same reasons. That leaves the people that voted for Kerry last time choosing to not vote for Obama.

People still are in ’Punish the Republicans’ mode from ’06. If Democrats picked someone that is a moderate among even their own standards, he’d probably win even if he was a purple and green banded fraggle.
 
Written By: jpm100
URL: http://
Very good post, which I largely agree with. Except the Bradly effect part. I think the effect is misnamed. At least to some extent.

I think pollsters bring much of this on themselves. That in recent years the frequency of and push polling has (I think) exacerbated people intentionally lying to pollsters.

If I talk to them at all I never answer straight.

And I agree with the comment that some people say one thing and do another to avoid talking about politics (or religion). People sometimes loudly and rudely disagree (or agree). May become a pest. These people can be insistent. Are not interested in intelligent discussion and so you say anything to avoid a confrontation or wasting your time.

 
Written By: rgaye
URL: http://
Much ado about nothing. In the first place the number of people who would not vote for a candidate only because they are black are not likely to be democrat voters in any case, given that the Democrat party is closely associated with racial preferences for Blacks.

Second, The polls showing how much people are against the Republicans are an artifact of dissatisfaction with Bush and the old Republican Senate majority. It does not completely transfer to McCain who was often in conflict with those two groups.
 
Written By: kyleN
URL: http://impudent.blognation.us/blog
I also think that the closeness of the polls is troubling to the Obama camp because of the Bradley effect. Historically, black candidates have polled higher—sometimes significantly higher—than the actual election results supported. Apparently, when pollsters ask who a voter is supporting, a certain percentage of voters will tell them that they support the black candidate, out of a desire not to appear racist.

This effect was quite noticeable when Doug Wilder ran for governor here in Virginia. It would not surprise me if it holds true this year, which is why I’m casting a more jaundiced eye than usual towards the polls. People like Larry Sabato are expending way too much energy trying to prove that this election is a fait accompli based on the current polls, when I believe that the reality is that this is likely to be an election where normal electoral trends do not toe the polling party line.
 
Written By: physics geek
URL: http://physicsgeek.mu.nu
If Obama were a 45 year-old, 2 year junior senator with no comittee experience, limited experience in state and municipal government, ran a campaign with all the same platitudes and speeches, but were a white person with a common WASPy name, he would have come in last in the Democratic primary, and deep down, everybody knows this.

Barack Obama is getting far more votes because he is black rather than in spite of it.
 
Written By: Jimmy the Dhimmi
URL: http://www.warning1938alert.ytmnd.com
This race thing is getting old. Number one it’s his policies. I mean come on, take just the windfall profits tax. Like that won’t raise the cost of gas. Yea I know he says he’s going to rebate it back to the people, but you just know thats after the government plays the middle man and takes their cut. Number two, and this is where they should pay close attention, he is a CHICAGO politition, a special breed of polititions that, well, go back to the example in number one and that should be enough said. Frankly I, and most people I know, don’t care that he is black. Even if they did, they don’t need to use it as an excuse to not vote for him.

Frankly I find progressives to be rather unthinking. I’m one of two conservatives in my area at work, surrounded by self professed progressives. One day they asked me who my hero was, to which I quickly replied Martin Luther King Jr. Well they where dumbfounded and finally replied ’how can that be, your Republican and everyone knows that Republicans are racist.’ I repied that as far as they’re concerned I’m much worse, I’m Libertarian. The point being that for the past five years prior to the question, the only person from work that I hung out with outside of work, was a black and his family. And everyone there knew it. But it didn’t stop them from saying it. This pretty much sums up all this ’lurking below the surface’ nonsense to me.
 
Written By: tonto
URL: http://
Excellent article!

I was just reading the online equivalent of one of the biggest mainstream newspapers in my country (belgium), and it’s absolutely revolting how these self-proclaimed independent journalists manage to completely and utterly misrepresent the entire US presidential elections and US society in general. According to this newspaper, McCain and the Republicans have "again" in "Karl Rove fashion" gone dirty and are hitting Obama below the belt because he is too elitist, too arrogant, and "too black". Obama is a "young, dynamic and handsome man who wants to unite the country behind his positive message of change" and possesses an "impeccable reputation" which is now being attacked by "venomous insinuations", etc etc etc.. (article (in dutch): http://www.nieuwsblad.be/GT/Index.aspx?genericId=311&articleId=GHT1V4O6C# )

This wouldn’t be so bad if this was some left wing fringe opinionmaker writing this, but again, this is the second biggest mainstream belgian newspaper, and actually writes from a christian-democrat/conservative point of view.
The power of media can not be underestimated, and if European media are any indication of the direction in which the US is heading, we just might see the day when HuffPo becomes mainstream.
 
Written By: ishopphotos
URL: http://
If Obama were a 45 year-old, 2 year junior senator with no comittee experience, limited experience in state and municipal government, ran a campaign with all the same platitudes and speeches, but were a white person with a common WASPy name, he would have come in last in the Democratic primary, and deep down, everybody knows this.

Barack Obama is getting far more votes because he is black rather than in spite of it.

Although he may not come in last, for evidence supporting the basic gist of the claim see Election 2004, Edwards, John.
 
Written By: MichaelW
URL: http://qando.net
"Silky Pony" had other things going for him though to help him move out front.
 
Written By: jpm100
URL: http://
I fully believe (though it can never be proven) that

a. McCain will win by at least 5 percentage points (this will be proven one way or another)

b. That about 10 percent of the people who vote for McCain will do so because Obama is black. That is not to say that all of that 10 percent will be republicans. I honestly believe that it will be split about even between republicans and democrats.

c. That if Hillary would have ran (and that is still a lingering possibility albeit a very slight one) that she would have lost by that same 5 percent (give or take a bit and the same situation would occur because of her being a woman.

d. That if the democrats would have selected another candidate (white male) that he would still lose by about that same 5% percentage points due to the policies of the democratic party and the likely candidate which would have been chosen from the rest of the field.

In short, I honestly dont believe that race or sex would have been the deciding factor in this presidential race and that the democrats were doomed to start with given the candidates that they had.

I dont know that Romney or any other republican would have done as well in scenario D above as McCain is likely to.

It is just the luck of the draw this year on both sides. The republicans have a candidate most of the base doesnt really want but will vote for him regardless due to the democratic candidate.

The democrats have a candidate they are stuck with due to circumstances and most would rather probably rather vote for just about anyone else that their party would have nominated but were dragged in by the race factor and have to vote that way or chance losing the African American vote this election and for years to come.

BTW
If McCain somehow gets Condi to run as his VP then I think he will win by probably 10% than the 5 mentioned above.

Just my uneducated guesses.





 
Written By: retired military
URL: http://
For instance, Obama receives something like 95% support from black voters. Indeed, after he began winning in the primary season, and began looking like a contender, the black vote moved decisively in his direction, to the point that he received 90% of the black vote in Mississippi.

Is it because he such wide-ranging experience? It is because he put forward far more compelling policy plans than Ms. Clinton? Or could it be perhaps, that black people want to vote for a black man for president?
Let me update the American Scoreboard for you:

WHITES: voting for a candidate for no other reason than he isn’t black = RACIST.

BLACKS: voting for a candidate for no other reason than he IS black = NOT RACIST.

Did I miss anything?

 
Written By: Jeff
URL: http://
I think that Obama needs to poll way better than McCain to win in November, for these reasons:

1) Obama isn’t a Republican. Right now, the Republican "brand" is in the crapper.

2) Obama is supperficially attractive. However, his lack of experience and his far left views make him a poor choice upon close inspection.

3) Obama doesn’t do well in debate formats, or other "think of your feet" situations.

I think that swing voters are likely to say they will vote for Obama, because they haven’t seriously considered the election. Change, youth, a fresh face, etc., all seems so nice . . . but come November and this will become a serious decision. People will reflect, consider Obama’s radical ties and his lack of experience, and pull the lever for McCain . . .
 
Written By: Don
URL: http://
I keep hearing that "the Republican brand is in the crapper" and I’m really beginning to wonder if this isn’t the same sort of conventional wisdom as "The World hates America."

It’s undeniable that Bush’s approval ratings are in the crapper. But — and I realize this comparison may be a stretch — Michael Eisner was getting no love towards the end of his reign at Disney. People still love Disney, and will love Disney regardless of who’s at the top, and what crazy decisions they make as a corporation (i.e., horrible direct-to-video sequels of beloved classics. "Bambi II" anyone?)

Here’s a thought: Is it possible that the vast population is merely disappointed with the Republican brand? And is it further possible that a candidate like McCain may offer a glint of hope for people who miss having a well-spoken, shoot from the hip, strong on national defense cowboy in the white house? (Did I actually just use the word "hope" in connection with McCain? Yikes.)

On the other hand, Obama represents more of the same from the Democrats. Sure, he’s glossy and has a good PR team, but he’s not selling anything new. There’s a reason why speculation of a John Kerry running mate has legs. They’re made for each other.

I refuse to believe this has anything to do with race. Like I said, if Colin Powell were in the race, there would be no trouble getting (us horrible, racist) Republicans to the polls.
 
Written By: Ronnie Gipper
URL: http://
Apparently the media thinks whitey should just simply forget about the kind of church that Nobama was a member of for 20 years.
 
Written By: Toddk
URL: http://
The Bradley Effect was alive and well in Michigan in the 2006 election when BAMN and every ’Progressive’ in Michigan was yelling and screaming "racism" over the Ward Connerly initiative against Affirmative Action. Polls showed those against leading by about 45-40% with 15% ’undecided.’ I made a fair amount of money by betting it would pass. The final vote was something like 58-42. I’m pretty sure part of that swing was Bradley Effect. It may also be the reason Obama can’t break 50%. Perhaps voters aren’t lying about voting for him but are lying about being ’undecided’.
 
Written By: jorgxmckie
URL: http://
Maybe Obama is doing poorly because he’s the same old same old? Mr "Bush is John McCain’s President" is a weak candidate.
 
Written By: shark
URL: http://

 
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