Friday, July 18, 2008
"Poll Finds Obama's Run Isn't Closing Divide on Race," reads the headline on the front page of the July 16th New York Times . The article beneath the headline observes that despite Barack Obama's candidacy, the results of a new CBS/New York Times Poll show that American society is still deeply divided along racial lines. Blacks and whites continue to hold divergent views about the state of race relations in the United States with whites far more optimistic than blacks. Moreover, white and black voters have dramatically different opinions about the nation's first black presidential candidate. Black voters view Obama much more favorably than white voters. In fact a plurality of white voters in the CBS/New York Times Poll had an unfavorable opinion of Obama.
The results of the poll are interesting. But is anyone surprised that Barack Obama's victory in the Democratic nomination contest has not changed the way blacks and whites view race relations in the United States? Or that black voters have much more positive opinions of a black presidential candidate than white voters? Anyone who was surprised by these findings hasn't been following the news for the past 40 years.
There's something important missing from the New York Times article and more generally from commentary on the role of race in the 2008 presidential election: a sense of historical perspective. Racial attitudes are based on people's upbringing and life experiences. They don't change overnight. And opinions about presidential candidates are based on longstanding and deeply held party loyalties and ideological orientations.
The assumption underlying much of the commentary about Barack Obama's candidacy in recent months has been that he has a problem with white voters. While questions about Obama's ability to appeal to white voters have been around since he entered the race, they were accentuated by his weak performance among white voters in some of the presidential primaries. In key swing states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, exit polls showed Obama trailing Hillary Clinton by a wide margin among white voters. Given his problems with white voters in these Democratic primaries, some pundits have assumed that Obama must also have a problem with white voters in the general election.
So does Barack Obama have a problem with white voters? The answer is a resounding "yes." And so has every other Democratic presidential candidate in the past forty years. The last Democratic candidate for president to win a majority of the white vote was Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Al Gore lost the white vote by 12 points in 2000. John Kerry lost the white vote by 17 points in 2004.
Based on five national polls that have been conducted this month--Gallup, Newsweek, Quinnipiac, CBS/New York Times, and ABC/Washington Post--Barack Obama is currently trailing John McCain by an average of nine points among white voters. So Obama is doing much better than John Kerry and a little better than Al Gore. In fact, the only Democratic presidential candidates in the past four decades who have done better among white voters were Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996. Not coincidentally, they were also the only successful Democratic presidential candidates in the past four decades. Based on his current showing in the polls, Barack Obama may well be the next one. With whites expected to comprise less than 80 percent of the 2008 electorate, and with a 20-1 margin among black voters and a 2-1 margin among Hispanic voters, Obama's current nine point deficit among white voters would translate into a decisive victory in November.
Rasmussen Reports is a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion information.
We conduct public opinion polls on a variety of topics to inform our audience on events in the news and other topics of interest. To ensure editorial control and independence, we pay for the polls ourselves and generate revenue through the sale of subscriptions, sponsorships, and advertising. Nightly polling on politics, business and lifestyle topics provides the content to update the Rasmussen Reports web site many times each day. If it's in the news, it's in our polls. Additionally, the data drives a daily update newsletter, the Rasmussen Report on radio and other media outlets.
Some information, including the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll and commentaries are available for free to the general public. Subscriptions are available for $3.95 a month or 34.95 a year that provide subscribers with exclusive access to more than 20 stories per week on Election 2012, consumer confidence, and issues that affect us all. For those who are really into the numbers, Platinum Members can review demographic crosstabs and a full history of our data.