Nineteen Percent of Whites: Friends Will Not Vote for Black Man

Charles M. Blow has a rather chilling oped piece on racism and the coming election in the August 8, 2008 New York Times. He first points out that this should be an easy year for the Democratic presidential candidate, with all the failures of the Bush administration, especially the war, and Senator Obama’s demonstrated fundraising ability. But a July New York Times/CBS News poll underscores the problem we have accented several times on this blog, the racism factor (inaccurately called by the euphemism, the “Bradley factor”) few white journalists or social scientists are willing to discuss:

When whites were asked whether they would be willing to vote for a black candidate, 5 percent confessed that they would not. . . . [And, more importantly] They asked the same whites if most of the people they knew would vote for a black candidate. Nineteen percent said that those they knew would not.

Blow points out this could be a large number of people if these white voters have many friends. (And are the white respondents really talking about themselves?) His analysis then accents what he calls the

murky world of modern racism, where most of the open animus has been replaced by a shadowy bias that is difficult to measure. As Obama gently put it in his race speech, today’s racial “resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company.” However, they can be — and possibly will be — expressed in the privacy of the voting booth.

Blow notes that if the percentage of whites who will not vote for a black candidate is just 15 percent, that is a larger percentage than the percentage of black voters or young voters in the electorate. So McCain has the racial edge–especially considering that Senator Obama’s percentage of black voters is high but about the same as previous white Democratic candidates. Actually too there is nothing mysterious or murky about all this, and the white bias is relatively easy to measure if one goes backstage and records what whites actually say and do there, as we have pointed out from social science data on the backstage blatant racism common in white communities, previously on this blog.

And the most revealing finding for the election in the survey is this:

Just as many white independents as Republicans said that most of the people they knew would not vote for a black candidate, and white Democrats were not far behind. Also, remember that during the Democratic primaries, up to 20 percent of white voters in some states said that the race of the candidate was important to them. Few of those people voted for the black guy.

One response to my previous blog analyses about whites not voting for Obama because of the backstage racism and their vibrant white racial frame is that the “racists are all Republicans any way.” This survey strongly suggests that view is false. The same proportion of independents reported that most of their friends will not vote for a black person, and a significant proportion of Democrats report the same. In an election where the typical winner wins by just 1-4 percent of the total votes cast, the 19 percent of independents who say most of their friends will not vote for Senator Obama is a chilling figure. It would appear that the odds are against him (always have been?) because of that old and still very strong white racial framing of Black men.


  1. Most definitely. But, I’m not sure I’d agree that most social scientists are afraid to talk about it. I was recently at the UNITY Conference for journalists of color and a recurring theme there was how few minority sources are cited in the mainstream media. You can’t assume a fair distribution of social science voices is given their voice in the mainstream media because it’s not.

  2. Joe Author

    BPA, I agree that many social scientists, esp. those of color like at your conference, are willing to talk about the racism factor. They do understand it.

    But I think the majority of white “liberal” journalists and of white social scientists, including my Marxist friends, are not willing to see Senator Obama as having a huge problem with white racist thought, esp. backstage. They think he has a good chance to win bec. they do not know or look at the data on white racist framing.

  3. Seattle in Texas

    I would argue that at least 1/2 of the Democrats and the Democratic Party itself is racist too and is in need of major reform if it is to become anti-racist. The primaries demonstrated that, as well as loudly voiced vows to vote for McCain if Obama won…. In terms of all Republicans being racist–I would have believed that had I ever came to Texas…(Obamacans, hehe–they rock), there are others I have met that put a twist on the stereotypes. Actually, in Texas, while many folks here catergorize themselves under a general political banner, they argue you cannot assume that you’re actually voting for a “Republican” or “Democrat” because they run under different labels, etc. I’ve heard several say they don’t vote straight Rep. or Dem., they can’t. Plus, they have a very liberal voting system here, as all states should have in my humble opinion…. If there wasn’t so much racism in the Democratic Party itself (particularly as demonstrated in terms of the voters), there would be no question he would win the Presidency in November. But! I still have hope…people are still registering and many have gotten involved after he won the primaries because they went into a temporary state of shock that he made it that far, and thus gained tremendous excitemetn and optimism after. Because more people who weren’t involved with the primaries are getting involved now, that may help correct for the democrats who won’t vote for Obama because of his skin color…. I think throwing in the towel because the odds seem and perhaps are against him, is not wise or ethical–the last thing he needs is abandoment among his supporters. He needs them to keep working, there’s still time and everybody working together now could make a tremendous difference in the very near future that could have a fundamental difference in both the impact and direction our future as a nation will follow, and the positive and/or negative consaquences it will necessarily endure as a result. I think he’s going to be our next president…:D

  4. While I agree with the general sentiment of the blog, I have to point out that although the winner of the Presidential election is usually by a small percentage that does not mean that the election will actually be close. Currently Senator Obama has a significant lead when the electoral math is taken into consideration. Even with that consideration you bring up a very important point, and I think I may explore this subject further in a blog of my own.

  5. Joe

    LT, the problem with the electoral math is that it too is based on polls, and research shows numerous whites lie (nicer word: misrepresent) their views on racial matters in polls. When the next Dr. Wright story comes up — and there will be numerous ones — watch more whites back off their “leaning to Obama” responses.

  6. stephen

    To be scientific the same question should have been posed to other races and the reverse question asked of blacks (would you vote for a ‘white’ person). Only about half of white voters are voting McCain and yet over 80% of blacks will vote Obama.

  7. GDAWG

    Pre-Obama, who did Black folks vote for national office? Just consider the political races where they, the Blacks, only had white choices. Not a problem then. Case closed!

  8. A white woman in Arizona

    I would not vote for a black man for president of the United States because if he put our economy back on track, made it possible for all Americans to have health insurance, ends the Iraqi War and puts those misspent dollars to good use in our own country, finds and destroys our enemies, does not use our military like chess pieces, provides for our soldiers during service and after thier return home, represents us internationally with gracious diplomacy and integrity, thereby once again inspiring respect for the United States, he may prove that a black man is as intelligent and competent as a white man AND he may (blasphemy) prove that God sees no left or right, no black or white, and does not take sides. A black president may even prove once and for all that we are equal as Americans, as human beings and that we are truly ONE Nation under GOD. These milestones would mean change and progress and nothing would be the same again. It’s just too scary to vote CHANGE.

  9. Sam

    I think the results of the election will say alot about Democrats. Let’s assume that Republicans will not vote for Obama regardless of race because they’re already politically opposed. In that case, if Obama loses by a landslide, then we’ll know that there are high numbers of racists among independents and Democrats.

    I do like the fact that we finally have a report pointing out that the Republican party does not house all the racists. While there are good people on both sides, we shouldn’t forget that MLK Jr. was a Republican whereas Bull Connor was a Democrat. The Civil Rights act was voted for by a higher percentage of Republicans than Democrats and in fact the Republican party was founded by anti-slavery expansion activists. On the other hand, the KKK was founded by individual Democrats and the Jim Crow laws were also Democrat sponsored measures.

    This is not to say all Democrats are racist but it’s good to remember that racism is not confined to party lines.

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