Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Decision '08: Shifting the Frontlines of Prejudice

Throughout most of the presidential race this year, media pundits have asked whether America was ready for a black president. Many have alluded to the Bradley Effect, which kept the black Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley from becoming Governor of California in 1982. The theory is that, despite what the polls show leading up to Election Day, many white voters will be unable to cast their vote for an African American.

But as Politico reported yesterday, the lines of racial prejudices are being blurred. Charles Franklin, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin, has found that many whites who hold general negative feelings about blacks prefer Obama this year. "Racial feelings are not as cut and dried — not as black and white — as people often say," according to Franklin.

The poll asked voters whether they agreed with the statement that "African-Americans often use race as an excuse to justify wrongdoing." About a fifth of white voters said they "strongly agreed." Yet among those who agreed, 23 percent said they'd be supporting Obama.

"This result is reasonable if you believe that race is not as monolithic an effect as we might easily assume," Franklin said, noting that 22 percent of those who "strongly disagreed" said they'd be supporting McCain.

Individual reports seem to confirm this trend.

"I wouldn't want a mixed marriage for my daughter, but I'm voting for Obama," the wife of a retired Virginia coal miner, Sharon Fleming, told the Los Angeles Times recently.

One Obama volunteer told Politico after canvassing the working-class white Philadelphia neighborhood of Fishtown recently, "I was blown away by the outright racism, but these folks are … undecided. They would call him a [racial epithet] and mention how they don't know what to do because of the economy."

Democrats are not the only ones witnessing changes in racial attitudes, however. While the racist and Islamophobic subconscious of many McCain supporters has come to light recently at the Republican's rallies (see yesterday's post by Adam Nashban) other McCain supporters have taken it upon themselves to dismiss the regressive outbursts.

This comes after John McCain himself had to calm down particularly concerned supporters that Barack Obama might be a closet Muslim, telling them they “shouldn’t be scared” and that Obama is a good “family man”.

But despite the calls for civility, and the uncovering of the man behind the Muslim rumors, the emails connecting him to black radicalism and Islam continue to spread - even more rapidly - and Obama has slowly slipped in the October polls.

Throughout the year, many pundits and bloggers have noted that the Bradley Effect might not be applicable to 2008, as the voting population has become more progressive towards race since 1982. Senator Obama has long asserted that the people who vote against him because of his skin color would probably vote against him for his policies anyway. Whether this is true or not will only be realized after November 4th.


The Pew Research Center released a report that examines voters’ beliefs and attitudes to Obama’s race and religion - among other concerns - earlier today.

On page 18 of the report, a Pew survey finds that Democrats supporting Obama are more likely to say they know someone who will not vote for Obama because he is black.

Far more Obama supporters than McCain supporters say they personally know someone who will not vote for Obama because he is black (27% vs. 10%). More Democrats (29%) and independents (24%) than Republicans (10%) say they know someone who will not vote for Obama because of his race.

In another survey on page 19, 12% of respondents continue to believe that Obama is a Muslim, while only 55% of respondents can correctly identify him as a Christian.

Most surprisingly, 8% of Obama supporters believe he practices Islam.

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