Why is it that just about every mainstream media story allegedly analyzing the upcoming presidential election fails to mention the impact attitudes on race will have on the voting? It doesn't matter which side of the political spectrum or what the writer's (non-racial) prejudices and predilections seem to be, saying that a lot of people won't vote for Obama because he's black appears out of bounds. Nor can reporters bring themselves to admit directly that a smaller but still significant number of people will vote for him BECAUSE he's black.
The polls DO show this; it's just not being properly reported.
Of course, you have to know how to read them. We've made significant strides in attitude over the past several decades, so much so that it's now considered very bad taste to admit that you wouldn't vote for a black man - or a white man for that matter - simply because of his race. But pollsters have various ways of getting around the taboos, including indirect questions. One easy, and admittedly not foolproof way is to ask if they thought their friends might be too prejudiced. Here's a summary of a recent poll from Rasmussen that did just that:
While most voters are becoming more comfortable voting for a black president, they are not so sure about their family and friends. Sixty-four percent (64%) now say they believe their family, friends and co-workers would be willing to support a black candidate, up slightly from 61% in June.
Today, just 8% say they would not be willing to vote for an African-American President and 13% say their peers would not. In June, 11% said they would not vote for an African-American candidate, while 14% said that of their peers.
There is, however, a significant generational issue. While 75% of senior citizens say they would vote for an African-American candidate, just 49% say their peers would do the same. Sixteen percent (16%) of seniors say their peers would not vote for an African-American and 34% are not sure. A person who is 65 today would have first been eligible to vote in 1964, the year when Lyndon Johnson was first elected. A major Voting Rights Act and other civil rights legislation passed in that year. For a thirty-year old voter today, those events were in the history books during pre-school days.
Men have become increasingly more comfortable voting for an African-American candidate. In February, 70% of men said they would be willing to support a black candidate, which jumped to 74% in June. This month, that number has jumped to 84%, just a point below the percentage of women who say they would be willing to vote for a black candidate.
(Link to the article on the Rasmussen Reports site here. I would suggest that the majority of those undecideds in the main poll are actually no votes too embarrassed to admit it. And by the way, this is all a well-known phenomenon that pollsters attempt to correct for when looking at polls involving minority candidates.)
I've seen reports on this poll which completely miss the point, and even the person who wrote for the pollsters tries to shape it into a positive thing, talking about how the country is making progress - nice, but kind of off-point. Imagine if the story said roughly 10 percent of the electorate wouldn't vote for McCain because he was a Navy guy.)
McCain faces a different (lesser) prejudice because of his age. Now he's a dynamic guy, full of energy, and it's likely that age isn't quite the factor for him that it could be. And it's also possible that his age may even help (slightly) more than it hurts - I think a lot of us expect a president to be an older man with a few gray (or white) hairs as proof of his experience. In any event, talking about McCain's age doesn't seem to be as off-limits as the impact of race. Maybe because talking about race has more to do with us than the candidate.
This isn't an argument that people should find another reason to vote for or against Obama (though undoubtedly they will); it's a measure of how truthful the media is willing to be about who we are. And ultimately, that's more a statement about us than the journalists.