Skip to comments.Is America ready for a black president?
Posted on 09/24/2008 10:51:34 AM PDT by SmithL
The way Michael Lewis-Beck sees it, the numbers don't add up.
President Bush's approval rating is hovering around 29 percent. The U.S. economy is showing few signs of shaking out of its funk. And most Americans, about 64 percent, oppose the war in Iraq.
"What we know in political science is that when a country faces problems like this, the party in the White House really gets clobbered," said Lewis-Beck, a University of Iowa political scientist who designs forecast models to predict election results. "So if you look at all those numbers, Obama should win the presidential election easily."
Yet with less than six weeks to go before the Nov. 4 election, most national polls show Democratic nominee Barack Obama holding a tenuous lead over John McCain, and Lewis-Beck says there is only one explanation.
"There is a significant group of people who just won't vote for a black candidate. Period," he said.
Lewis-Beck doesn't come to this conclusion without quantification. He has been putting together forecast models since the early 1980s. His Jobs Model Forecast takes into account the president's popularity, current figures on economic growth and job creation, and the built-in incumbency advantage. And while the numbers are fluid, Lewis-Beck's forecast predicts Obama should win the presidency in a landslide by garnering about 56.6 percent of the two-party popular vote, compared to 43.4 percent for McCain, the Republican nominee.
Yet according to Pollster.com, a one-stop shop for political polls and analysis, Obama's lead is much more narrow -- 48.4 percent to 45.1 for McCain.
"People are just not really wanting to talk about this, but you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure this out -- it's looking you right in the face," said Lewis-Beck. "The economic conditions are terrible, most don't like the war, and people think Bush is one of the worst presidents we've ever had. If Obama were a white Democratic candidate, he'd be running away with this race."
Not everyone agrees, however, that race is the only factor that can explain Obama and McCain running neck and neck in the polls.
Some say Obama's overall lack of experience in national office and shortage of major legislative accomplishments is hurting his cause. Others argue that Obama's speeches, at least early on, were big on inspiring rhetoric but thin on policy substance.
McCain, meanwhile, is not only viewed by many as a respected war hero, but his campaign has done a good job of distancing itself from the blemishes of the Bush presidency.
It also must be noted that while the vast majority of forecasters correctly predicted a very close battle between President Bush and John Kerry in 2004 (Lewis-Beck's Jobs Model was off by just 1.6 percent), those same modelers, including Lewis-Beck, mostly erred in 2000 by predicting an easy Al Gore victory.
"Those who forecast outcomes try to capture systematic things -- the predictable things from one election to another," said Charles Franklin, a UW-Madison political science professor who co-developed Pollster.com. "That's where the economy and current president's ratings and all that comes into play. But because it's so hard to measure personality and issues in a consistent way from one year to the next, those things are left out of forecasts. So my point is, there are some plausible reasons why Obama might underperform the forecasts."
Most everyone agrees it would be naive to think race will play no role in the election. But, adds Franklin, "there is definitely some disagreement about how big of a role it is going to play."
Patricia Devine, a UW-Madison psychology professor, has spent nearly 25 years attempting to piece together what she calls the "prejudice puzzle."
And while her research doesn't directly answer the question of whether the United States is ready to elect a black president, it does shed some light on the topic.
"There are different ways to measure people's prejudice," said Devine. "One is in a very direct, obvious way. You ask questions. 'Are you prejudiced? Do you think blacks and whites are equal? Would you vote for a qualified black president?'
"That is at the explicit level. And what you find over time is that people have shown less prejudice when answering these types of questions on national survey data."
For example, over the past 50 years, the polling organization Gallup has asked the public, "If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be black, would you vote for that person?"
In 1958, just 37 percent told pollsters they would vote for a qualified black person to be president. By February 2007, 94 percent said they would.
To put that number in perspective, the same 2007 Gallup poll found that 95 percent would vote for a qualified Catholic; 92 percent for a qualified Jew; 88 percent for a qualified woman; 87 percent for a qualified Hispanic; 55 percent for a qualified homosexual; and 45 percent for a qualified atheist.
Somewhat surprisingly, only 57 percent said they would vote for a well-qualified person who would be 72 or older when elected, such as McCain.
"I think when these surveys were collected over time, a lot of people said, 'Sure, I could vote for a well-qualified black candidate,' " said Devine. "But they didn't ever think it would really happen in their lifetime. So, how trustworthy is that (94 percent) response? Now we're going to be put to the test."
Social scientists have known for decades that those answering polls often mislead survey takers, perhaps hoping to hide their biases.
One such example is known as the "Bradley effect," which refers to the discrepancy between voter polls and election outcomes when a white and minority candidate run against each other. The term is named for Tom Bradley, a black man who lost the 1982 California governor's race despite leading nearly every poll.
However, critics of the "Bradley effect" note that in 2006, polls correctly called a narrow defeat for Democrat Harold Ford, who is black, against white Republican Bob Corker in a Tennessee Senate race. In other words, although Ford lost, there was no discrepancy between what voters told pollsters, and how they actually voted.
Since 1998, researchers have tried to measure the difference between controlled, conscious responses to bias, and automatic, unconscious responses using the Implicit Association Test (IAT). Among other things, this experimental method flashes on a computer screen pictures of white and black faces, and positive words (such as "glorious" or "wonderful") and negative words (such as "nasty" or "awful"). As quickly as possible, test takers are asked to hit the left key if they see a white face or positive word, and the right key if they view a black face or negative word.
The subjects are then asked to switch things up, by hitting the left key if they see a black face or a positive word, and the right key for a white face or a negative word. In general, white test takers are much quicker at grouping white faces and positive words than black faces and positive words.
In fact, over the past decade, that test has generally shown that more than 80 percent of white test takers exhibit a pro-white or anti-black bias. (To take The Implicit Association Test and see how you fare, visit www.implicit.harvard.edu.)
"We all have these biases and learn these stereotypes through our socialization," said Devine. "Most have these immediate, biased reactions whether we condone them or not. So, could your conscious mind tell you to vote Obama, but unconsciously you might change your mind in the election booth? It's possible, but there is no simple answer."
And no one is willing to guess how much of a role prejudice will play in the election.
"In all the past elections, the presidential candidates have been white and male," said UW-Madison political science Professor Kathy Cramer Walsh. "So forecasting models have never had to account for race. There are some very good studies of race and candidate effects, and polls and elections at some lower levels. But this is so different. It's uncharted territory."
Dietram Scheufele, a UW-Madison professor of communications, says Obama's campaign should be prepared to answer more race-related questions as the election draws near.
"In my opinion, as we get into October and the campaigns become more negative, race will become a more open issue," said Scheufele, an expert on public opinion and politics. "For example, I believe he'll eventually have to deal with the issue of his middle name being Hussein."
Scheufele says that the younger generations are more "race-blind" than older ones.
"Age tends to play a big role in who people feel comfortable voting for. So I think if Obama can anticipate some of these race issues and say, 'Look, I'm the candidate for modern America, where everybody can come to the table and it doesn't matter what race you are,' the better off he'll be."
The question of how prejudice will play out in the presidential election became even more complicated when McCain named Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate three weeks ago.
"The interesting thing about this election now is there is a minority candidate on each ticket -- so the complexion of the election has changed," said Devine. "With McCain as old as he is and the possibility that a woman could step into the presidency, now you have to choose. A black man? A white woman?
"People had the choice between Obama and (Hillary) Clinton -- but that was among the party base. So I think it will be very interesting to see how this issue plays out. It's just one more unknown."
To be certain, there are no easy answers.
Add in the fact that many pundits and politicians don't feel comfortable commenting publicly on the topic of prejudice, and it's difficult to get a good read on how this issue will truly affect the election.
"People want to put a feel-good gloss on this thing," said Lewis-Beck. "And, of course, we'd all like to think we live in a society where race doesn't make a difference. But I don't think we do, and the data don't demonstrate that we do."
We better be. Did anyone see the Fox News poll today? It backs up the Washington Post/NBC News poll. I’ve got to turn off. I can’t watch McCain destroyed by the media any longer...
Just not Barack Hussein Obama.
We want a real American, not some kind of crypto-communist.
Maybe if one ever gets nominated.
Sure we’re ready for a black president. Just not obama.
He is not a real American, I’d stake my life on it..
Must have a birth cert.
Lewis-Beck is an idiot. First, the country is not facing dire problems. Yes, we have a mortgage problem, but the economy so far continues to grow at a fairly robust pace. Second, America will vote for a black president, but it does not want a red one, which is what Comrade Obamavich is.
Obama’s main problem is that he is a far-left terrorist sympathizer, dishonestly posing as a moderate “unifier” — he would not be able to get above 30% of the vote max. without the Goebbels-MSM running propaganda for him 24/7.
Once enough of the public gets wise to all of the lies and fabrications that have been presented by and for him, once enough people understand that he is the Manchurian Candidate of the political left, he is finished. Race has absolutely nothing to do with it, but of course the propandistic frauds of the left try to pretend that is the issue so that they will be able to wail about supposed racism in this campaign for the rest of their lives. If we thought all the whining and bleating about Willie Horton was bad, we ain’t seen nothing yet!!!
If it was Michael Steele, Lynn Swan or even Cowboy Troy...I’d be ready.
What America is not ready for is a Black Separatist/Liberal/Socialist/Progressive/Marxist for President.
It couldn’t be Obama’s political beliefs instead of his color that people do not want.
The liberals, in this case the media, make the assumption that Americans don’t like the Democratic Presidential candidate because he has a small per centage of black blood in him. The liberals again get it wrong. It’s not because of the black blood, it’s because of his marxist background. We don’t even need to discuss that he’s a damned liar in about everything he says.
It’s not racism. IT’s because he’s a liberal liar.
Yep, just like Kerry did.
Just not Barack Hussein Obama.
We want a real American, not some kind of crypto-communist.**
Can’t say it any better... further exploration of my opinions about NeoSocialist or NeoComm Obama, would possibly get me Banned for LANGUAGE!!!
Sure, even the guy from the Allstate commercials (and Pres. David Palmer on ‘24’) is more qualified than Obambi the impostor.
Or Tiger Woods, he has more experience than bho
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