Friday, November 14, 2008

Nationally, race may have been a plus for Obama

Way up north, in the Arrowhead of Minnesota, where winters start early and iron-ore mining has made the politics mainly Democratic, Marshall Helmberger of Timberjay Newspapers wondered if the overwhelmingly white electorate would turn a cold shoulder to Barack Obama on Election Day.

"Like many, I had been hearing stories of the unsavory comments overheard in area bars, or when Obama volunteers were out door-knocking," Helberger writes. "Some of the comments expressed political differences of opinion, which is a normal and healthy part of a political campaign, but others sounded racially-tinged. In a few cases, they were shockingly bigoted or uninformed. More than a few repeated the false claim that Obama was Muslim. I reassured myself that these anecdotes didn’t reflect the view of most people, but my concerns were constantly reinforced by a mass media that fixated for months on the notion that a black man, especially one with a foreign-sounding name and an urban background, couldn’t win the support of rural voters."

But when the returns came in, they indicated that Obama's race didn't hurt him, and may in fact have helped. He "did substantially better than past Democratic presidential candidates in almost every precinct in northern St. Louis County, especially in many of the rural townships in our region that had been trending most heavily Republican in recent years," Helmberger notes, giving specific examples. (St. Louis County extends from Duluth on the south all the way to Canada; as a whole, it voted about as Democratic this time as in 2004.)

And even if race wasn't a plus for Obama in the North Country, the returns showed "The economy trumped all in this election. Guns, gays, and God has been the traditional trinity for Republicans in recent elections, but the GOP never got traction on those divisive social issues this year," Helmberger writes. "That the content of Obama’s character overshadowed the color of his skin to a clear majority of Americans is a remarkable achievement that says much about how far we have come since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told us of the dream he held for America." (Read more)

In an appearance at the University of Kentucky this week, Melinda Henneberger of Commonweal magazine, who covered Al Gore's 2000 campaign for The New York Times, said race wound up working in Obama's favor. "I was stunned that race actually turned out to be a positive for him," she said, adding that she was too slow to realize "We really had made that much progress." Her only available data to support that view was exit polling showing that Obama had done better than 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry with all or almost all demographic groups. To that, we would add the boosts Obama got from black and young voters.

Henneberger might be correct, said pollster Peter Hart, who does national surveys for NBC News and The Wall Street Journal. He told us yesterday that the exit poll, done by another firm, showed that most of the white voters who said race was a factor in their vote cast a ballot for Obama. Reasons for that could include voters' guilt about how they thought or behaved during the civil-rights struggle, a hope that a black president with a Muslim middle name could repair the nation's international standing, or a desire to move the country to a new era in race relations, as Richard Fausset of the Los Angeles Times reported on Election Day. The poll had three levels for the question: a factor, an important factor and the most important factor. The publicly available poll results for the question are not broken down by race; we're trying to get them. Watch this space.

1 comment:

AnnCoulterScaresChildren said...

There is no way that race helped Obama. Racism is still alive and well in America. Liberals (me included) have a way of over-exaggerating the characteristics of the right that we disagree with; thus, we see the majority of the conservative party (especially post-election) as a racist, radical southern party. I can promise you that those white voters who said that race was an issue and were speaking for themselves didn't vote for Obama. This claim completely rejects the anti-Bush emotions that McCain tried so desperately to break free of.
However, I strongly believe that the color of Obama's skin helped him win the primary. Hillary didn't help her cause, but Obama's race mobilized apathetic voter- bases--whites in their twenties and blacks, and everyone else who needed a movement.
I believe it was Thomas Sowell who did his best to prop up conservatives by writing how it is much easier for a movement to win a primary than to win an election. Lucky for us, Obama had the skills to go with the skin-color and people are still really, really pissed off over Bush.