Thursday, October 16, 2008

NYT: "In Voting Booth, Race May Play a Bigger Role"

Yesterday, the New York Times ran five good pieces on the role of race in the presidential election from a regional perspective...

Adam Nagourney suggests that despite some high profile moments where race was out in the open, on full display, that it is more often "found only in sentiments that are whispered, internalized or masked by discussions of culture or religion, and therefore hard to capture fully in polling or even to hear clearly in everyday conversation." He goes on, "Political strategists once assumed that polls might well overstate support for black candidates, since white voters might be reluctant to admit racially tinged sentiments to a pollster. Newer research has cast doubt on that assumption. Either way, the situation is confounding aides on both sides, who like everyone else are waiting to see what role race will play in the privacy of the voting booth."

• In a companion article on "the bi-racial factor" in the South, Adam Nossiter finds that for some white southerners, their uncertainty of Barack Obama "starts at racial identity." The piece begins: "The McCain campaign’s depiction of Barack Obama as a mysterious 'other' with an impenetrable background may not be resonating in the national polls, but it has found a receptive audience with many white Southern voters." He then writes, "Being the son of a white mother and a black father has come to symbolize Mr. Obama’s larger mysteries for many voters. When asked about his background, a substantial number of people interviewed said they believed his racial heritage was unclear, giving them another reason to vote against him."

• Closer to our neck of the woods, in Colorado, Kirk Johnson finds, "The debate over race — and for some, the soul-searching — that Mr. Obama’s history-making candidacy as the Democratic nominee has engendered are clearly present here, just different." One theme that emerged in Johnson's reporting is that "the lack of racial interaction made Mr. Obama’s race more of an intellectual concept, secondary to ordinary political considerations." Yet, "in a sign of the limits of tolerance, some white voters also expressed a vague fear that if they did experience daily life in black America, their opinion of black people might change for the worse."

• In Nevada, Jennifer Steinhauer found that door-to-door volunteers for Obama "face a complex issue" in race. A case in point, when one woman told a canvasser, “I don’t want to sound like I’m prejudiced... I’ve never been around a lot of black people before. I just worry that they’re nice to your face but then when they get around their own people you just have to worry about what they’re going to do to you.” The Obama volunteer responded: “One thing you have to remember is that Obama, he’s half white and he was raised by his white mother. So his views are more white than black really.” She went on to assure the woman that she was so impressed with Mr. Obama the person, that she failed to notice the color of his skin anymore." The exchange was posted online and it evoked outrage among many readers. “Amazing how even white people who support Obama and are canvassing for him default to classic white supremacist language,” wrote one reader. Another said, “What in the world is this volunteer thinking?” But, according to Steinhauser, the Obama canvasser's "efforts reflect the complex task that many volunteers canvassing for Mr. Obama face. While she and other Obama volunteers may feel offended by remarks like Ms. Mendive’s, an admonishment would not persuade a voter on the fence to pull the lever for Mr. Obama. So she often takes another tack."

• And, in a final article, reporter Shaila Dewan finds on campuses in Kentucky and southern Ohio that "In Generation Seen as Colorblind, Black Is Yet a Factor." She writes, "Throughout this campaign season, many commentators and politicians have proclaimed today’s youth to be a colorblind generation in which racial prejudice has receded and diversity is embraced. But in two days of interviews here and north of the Ohio River in Cincinnati, most young people acknowledged — or even insisted — that race was still a powerful if subtle factor among their peers." Citing statistical data, along with personal interviews, Dewan finds that while "most polls show that Mr. Obama is far more popular among younger voters than his Republican opponent, Senator John McCain... exit polls conducted by Edison/Mitofsky this year [show] younger Democratic primary voters were no less likely to say that race had been an important factor in their vote than people 30 and older. And in two states — Georgia, where African-Americans dominated among younger voters, and Illinois — young voters were actually more likely than older ones to say that race had been important." Moreover, "Some data have also found that young voters are less likely than older ones to say the country is ready for a black president, though these data make it hard to tell whether the young are more influenced by race or simply more realistic about its power. In a nationwide New York Times/CBS News poll conducted in July, more than two-thirds of voters said the country was ready for a black president. Among voters 30 or older, 23 percent disagreed, compared with 34 percent of younger voters."

Taken together, what do these regional portraits of race and election '08 reveal about how far the nation has come and what work remains ahead? How might we situate these findings within the longer historical trajectory of race and politics? What has been your experience with issues of race and the presidential election?

UPDATE: More food for thought on race and election '08...

KKK flyers show up in OK newspapers.

• Al Jazeera reporter find racism at Palin rally.

San Bernadino GOP group makes fake bills featuring Obama, watermelon, ribs and a bucket of fried chicken.

Sacramento GOPers approve email that suggests waterboarding Obama and compares him to Osama bin Laden.

• Rush Limbaugh perpetuates radical right-wing offense, claiming Obama Arab, not African American.

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