Why Can’t ABC News Discuss Racism? New Poll on “Race and Politics”

A new ABC News story on a recent survey of 1,125 adults (with black oversample; 3 percent margin/error) includes this conclusion in its headline: “Poll Finds Four in 10 Think Obama’s Candidacy Will Improve Race Relations.” I would have titled it, “Poll Finds Many Whites Think in Racist Terms, Will Not Vote for Obama.

According to the news report 40 percent of Americans think Senator Obama’s candidacy will “improve race relations” in the U.S. The story then adds:

Three in 10 whites express less racially sensitive views, such as having some feelings of prejudice or believing that blacks in their communities do not experience discrimination; they hold generally critical views of Obama and favor John McCain for president by a 26-point margin. But an additional two in 10 whites are at the high end of racial sensitivity — and they favor Obama by 19 points.

By “less racially sensitive” whites, as Mordy pointed out in a previous post today, they mean “racist” whites, but somehow cannot bring themselves to talk candidly about racism from their own poll. And notice that for these white folks who admit to racist views, McCain has a huge advantage. The smaller group of whites at the other end of the spectrum are viewed as counterbalancing the more racist whites:

Yet the views of these whites are counterbalanced by the preferences of the most racially sensitive whites, a smaller group (21 percent of whites) but broadly pro-Obama. These are whites who have a black friend, who think blacks in their area suffer discrimination and report no personal feelings of prejudice; they support Obama by 55-36 percent.

Somehow 30 percent is balanced by 21 percent? Is this a type of new math that works only on matters of racism?

And the write-up makes a big deal of the findings on whites reporting black friends. One would think they might check out the research literature on this matter. If they did, they would find studies showing that whites often exaggerate when it comes to “black friends,” who often do not exist or are just fleeting acquaintances at work. Then the ABC report continues:

All told, just 21 percent of whites say the race of the candidate is very or somewhat important in their vote — and Obama’s support is essentially the same among those who say race matters and those who say not…. Obama’s race shows little if any net effect on vote choices overall.

At no point do they seem to realize that many whites misrepresent their racial views in surveys. Like most pundits in the television media, they seem to take such polls as true readings of white sentiments. And then, of course, they can conclude that race will have no net effect on white voter choices in this election. Oh, Really?

Senator Obama Speaks Out on Race and White Fears

A Reuters article on the ABC News website is titled, “Obama Says Republicans Will Use Race to Stoke Fear” (Caren Bohan). This commentary by the Senator is clearly attempting to head off what is his most serious barrier to election, what we here call the “white racism factor” (and not by the quaint media term, “the Bradley factor”).
John Judis, a New Republic editor and expert on demographic/polling analyses, recently did a detailed article on whether whites (other than liberal Democrats) will vote in large enough numbers for Senator Obama to win in November 2008. His conclusion, drawing on data from the implicit association test research, political psychology research, and exit polls, is that the antiblack vote will be 15-20 percent of white Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. (Already, 9-12 percent of liberal/moderate white voters in Democratic party primaries have said race affected their votes, when they did not vote for Obama.)

Yesterday Senator Obama argued explicitly about some racial matters and voters:

“It is going to be very difficult for Republicans to run on their stewardship of the economy or their outstanding foreign policy,” Obama told a fundraiser in Jacksonville, Florida. “We know what kind of campaign they’re going to run. They’re going to try to make you afraid. They’re going to try to make you afraid of me. He’s young and inexperienced and he’s got a funny name. And did I mention he’s black?”

He is speaking of course to white voters and is quite right about the way that the emotions of racism are key to white voting, but does not elaborate. And he hits Republicans hard on their weaknesses, probably his best strategy for winning (that is, take the focus off race and accent the economy). Then argues that Republicans have already shown their race cards:

“We know the strategy because they’ve already shown their cards. Ultimately I think the American people recognize that old stuff hasn’t moved us forward. That old stuff just divides us,” he said.

Senator Obama is trying to inoculate himself from the coming racist attacks. This is probably a smart move, although the argument that Republicans have shown their cards is a bit premature. The Republican attacks have barely begun. The argument that racist stuff has not moved us forward is certainly true, but that argument does not work well with many whites. In fact, racist arguments, if they are not too overt (like Trent Lott was on legal segregation) do in fact work well, especially with the millions of whites who hold firmly to racist stereotypes of the white racial frame and have much racialized resentment toward African Americans.

The Reuters writer then adds a very important point:

It has been rare for him to bring up the topic during his presidential bid. In March he gave a widely praised speech on the subject after receiving criticism over racially charged comments by his longtime pastor.

This writer accents what may be Senator Obama’s Achilles heel, the Dr. Wright and similar racialized stories that accent in white minds that he is a “dangerous black man,” a theme that Republicans will likely use again and again in various ways. The point about the rarity of race as a topic for the Senator is on target, for this does seem to be only the second time in the campaign that he has explicitly focused this much on racial matters. (His last major speech was whites-oriented too, but on black fathers, not on racism.) And he still has not spoken candidly about white racist views and actions being a central U.S. problem. Indeed, he has not given a major speech yet on the continuing reality of racial hostility and discrimination in society and the need to aggressively enforce civil rights laws–to mention just the start of what needs to be done on white racism.�