In the aftermath of the New Hampshire primary one ugly truth shines through. Race is clearly still a serious problem for the Democratic Party and for many Democratic and independent voters in New Hampshire and perhaps nationwide.
How can I say such a terrible thing? It’s easy. Race is the most evident explanation for the disparity between all of the advance polling, the exit polls, and the actual results of the election. Virtually every poll prior to the election showed Barack Obama with a strong lead over Hillary Clinton. Even Clinton’s own campaign was predicting an 11 point loss to Obama. Yet when it came down to the voting, Clinton won by a 3% margin.
There’s really only one conclusion. When people were polled before they voted, they said they were going to vote for Obama. When they were in the privacy of the voting booth, they actually voted for Clinton. They wanted to look like they were open-minded, but when it came to actually acting, they chose based on race. The only explanation is the main distinguishing difference between Clinton and Obama: race. When push came to shove in a very white, very Democratic New England state, they chose the white woman over the black man.
I guess that lying to the pollsters shows at least some awareness that they ought to be voting on a color-blind basis, but clearly that moral impulse didn’t go very deep and was overwhelmed by fear or caution or plain old racism when they had to make a real commitment.
The problem isn’t limited to Democratic voters. Independents seem to have faced the same choice and made a similar decision. Despite telling pollsters they heavily favored Obama right up until the start of the primary, when it came to voting, independent voters seem to have flocked to John McCain, the whitest and safest alternative they could find.
Exit polling shows further support for this trend, with older voters — especially women over 40 — voting heavily for Clinton and staying away from Obama in droves. Clearly that is a demographic which may be a little scared by his message of change as well as the color of his skin.
Does this make the American voter a racist or America a racist nation? Not really. Even if race figures in as part of the voter’s decision, it’s clearly something people are self-conscious about, and just one of many factors they are taking into consideration. Not voting for someone partially on the basis of their race isn’t necessarily racist. It may just be caution and reasonable self-interest.
It’s perfectly reasonable for some Democrats to be concerned that the interests of the younger, more ethnic elements of the party are not the same as those of the older more traditional wing of the party. As the youth vote goes to Obama, the old-line Democrats are clearly clinging to Clinton as the last defender of their traditions. Clinton has the big-money backers – the lobbyists, the unions, and the international financial elites. All Obama has is a lot of charm and the promise of the future.
The bad news for Obama is that as the primary season moves into the rust belt and the south, race may become a bigger issue because voters are older and more conservative. If he couldn’t win New Hampshire with all of the kids of Dartmouth and UNH behind him, what chance does he have in Michigan or South Carolina?