There are doubtless some people who will vote for or against Senator Obama because he is Black. Some will doubtless vote for or against Senator McCain because he is not. According to a recent AP-Yahoo News survey, there are many Whites who harbor misgivings about Blacks. This survey focused on the attitudes of Whites concerning such characteristics of Blacks as violence, trustworthiness, responsibility and boastfulness. A similar survey of Black attitudes toward Whites would have been useful. The best I have been able to find is a survey conducted in 2002 and reported in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (free registration required; PDF format) which focused on attitudes of Blacks toward Whites and vice versa. The respondents were male and female, Black and White, students at six universities selected to provide regional diversity. It is an interesting academic study, rather tightly written, and full of complex statistical methodology. Still, those who find such things comprehensible (I had many problems, but think I got the basic thrust) might also find it interesting. The similarities between the results of the 2002 (Black and White) and 2008 (White only) surveys seem, to me, quite remarkable.
According to the AP-Yahoo poll,
Not all whites are prejudiced. Indeed, more whites say good things about blacks than say bad things, the poll shows. And many whites who see blacks in a negative light are still willing or even eager to vote for Obama.
On the other side of the racial question, the Illinois Democrat is drawing almost unanimous support from blacks, the poll shows, though that probably wouldn't be enough to counter the negative effect of some whites' views.
Race is not the biggest factor driving Democrats and independents away from Obama. Doubts about his competency loom even larger, the poll indicates. More than a quarter of all Democrats expressed doubt that Obama can bring about the change they want, and they are likely to vote against him because of that.
Three in 10 of those Democrats who don't trust Obama's change-making credentials say they plan to vote for McCain.
According to the 2002 survey linked above,
The descriptive results revealed that the Black students scored higher than the White students on all of the measures included in this study. Although response biases could account for these differences, the magnitude of the majority of these differences suggests that they are meaningful. If so, the results suggest that the White students may have been reluctant to express negative attitudes toward Blacks and that the White students perceived relations between the groups in more favorable terms than did the Black students. Of course, Blacks have many reasons to think that Whites are a greater threat to them than vice versa, despite media presentations that often suggest it is Whites who feel threatened by Blacks. The White students may have been less aware of the conflict and status differences than the Black students. Alternatively, the White students may have been motivated to downplay intergroup conflict and status differences to reduce guilt feelings that might be aroused by regarding Blacks as being disadvantaged and their own group as the cause of these problems (Swim & Miller, 1999).
The threats referenced in the 2002 study were described as follows:
The Threats as Predictors
The strongest predictor in both groups was intergroup anxiety. In this study, as well as in others (W. G. Stephan&Stephan, 2000), fear of interaction with members of another group was associated with disliking the outgroup. Intergroup anxiety is the most self-interested of the threats in the integrated threat theory. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that for young people who function in integrated environments, anxiety concerning outgroup interaction should play a more prominent role in predicting negative racial attitudes than realistic or symbolic threats, which concern threats to the ingroup as a whole. Nonetheless, in both racial groups, realistic and symbolic threats did predict negative racial attitudes.
Exit and other polls focusing on for whom Whites are likely to vote may, as has been suggested, be infected by political correctness and therefore inaccurately reflect the attitudes questioned in the AP-Yahoo News poll; the disinclination of some respondents to say that they will not vote for Senator Obama may distort the polls to give Senator Obama a greater statistical popularity than he realistically has. Conversely, the attitudes of Blacks reflected in pre-election and exit polls may suffer from a similar distortion. Or, maybe not. It is an hypothesis objectively subject to neither proof nor disproof, nor even very useful speculation.
Should the race of a candidate make a difference? How about gender? The answer should be obvious; lest it go without saying because it is so obvious, my answer is, "of course not;" nor, in a perfect society, would these things be significant. Race and gender standing alone have absolutely nothing to do with whether a person will make a good President or Vice President. Yet, it has been argued that race is the only basis upon which Senator Obama might lose the election. A contrary view is expressed here.
How about a candidate's views on race, gender and what to do concerning matters related to them? Ah, now that is different. A candidate's views toward racial preferences could well make a legitimate difference. So might an affirmation or rejection of "Black Liberation Theology," "Negro inferiority" or the view that "Women should stay home and breed." Appeals based solely on a candidate's race should not make a difference. I could not in good conscience vote for any candidate who asked me to vote for him on account of his race or for her on account of her gender. Nor could I vote for any candidate who asked me to vote against his or her opponent for these reasons. There are far, far better reasons to vote for or against a candidate than his race or gender. Their views on the significance of race and gender are, as I said, different.
Many of us, Black and White alike, may be overly sensitive to innocuous comments which can be twisted to seem racist. Senator Biden, back when he was first seeking the Democratic Party Presidential nomination, referred to Senator Obama as follows
“I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” he said. “I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”
This was interpreted by some as suggesting that Senator Biden was saying something naughty, and in the process somehow demeaning Blacks whom he must, therefore, have generally viewed as unclean, stupid and inarticulate. Silly? Of course. Hoof and Mouth Disease is a problem with various quadrupeds; it can with some difficulty be prevented, but is difficult, if not impossible, to cure. Hoof in Mouth disease, for which there is no known prophylaxis or cure, seems to be a problem with politicians and other public speakers, as well as, obviously, with writers. Sometimes, comments which might to some appear racist can be explained away; sometimes, they can't. In any event, Senator Obama seems not to have taken much umbrage and Senator Biden is now the Democratic Party candidate for Vice President. He probably would not have consented to run with Senator Obama if he thought him other than articulate, bright and "clean."
Senator Clinton (whom, in the interest of full disclosure, I despise for many reasons) relied heavily on the votes of women — as women — in attempting to secure her party's Presidential nomination. Lots of women seem more than a little disappointed that she did not get either that or second prize, the Vice Presidential nomination. Senator Clinton's best(?) efforts notwithstanding, some of her supporters are now supporting the McCain/Palin ticket financially and otherwise. Off hand, I can't think of many views shared by the former supporters of Senator Clinton and those whom they now support. Perhaps this reflects little more than anger at what is perceived as sexism in the Democratic Party — how on earth could Senator Clinton have been denied the first prize, let alone the second prize? Even Donald Trump has now switched allegiance from Senator Clinton to Senator McCain.
During the Democratic Party candidate selection process, the percentage of Black voters who supported Senator Obama was extraordinarily high — far higher, I suspect, than would have been the case had Senator Obama been of, say, Korean ancestry rather than (half) Black. South Carolina is one example. North Carolina is another. There are more. Senator Obama didn't have to "play the race card;" all he had to do was to be (half) Black. Neither, for that matter, did Senator Clinton have to play the race or the gender cards; all she had to do was to be White and female. Neither could creditably claim personal credit for choosing to be Black or White, male or female, and neither has done so.
Would it make lots of us feel good to elect the first (discounting, of course, former President Clinton) Black President or the first female President? Probably. Would it be a good thing in and of itself? I don't feel at all strongly that it would be; it might assuage a bit of the "White Liberal Guilt" from which the country is said to suffer, and if we could put that behind us it might be nice.
There has been a lot of bile on these threads of late, much of it counter-productive if informed discussion is desired and if racism and sexism are to be put behind us, where they belong. Some of the bile has to do with the issues (and they unfortunately are issues, big ones) of race and gender.
Until we — all of us — put racism and sexism behind us, we gotta big problem.