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Race could cost Obama a close election

Sep 23, 2008 Author: VP | Filed under: Politics

Race could cost Obama a close election, study finds
Bias found in 1 out of 3 in an essential bloc: white Democrats, independents

By Ron Fournier and Trevor Tompson
Associated Press
Article Last Updated: 09/21/2008 10:10:10 PM CDT

WASHINGTON — Deep-seated racial misgivings could cost Barack Obama the White House if the election is close, according to an AP-Yahoo News poll that found one-third of white Democrats harbor negative views toward blacks — many calling them “lazy,” “violent” or responsible for their own troubles.

The poll, conducted with Stanford University, suggests the percentage of voters who may turn away from Obama because of his race easily could be larger than the final difference between the candidates in 2004 — about 2.5 percentage points.

Republican John McCain has his own obstacles: He”s an ally of an unpopular president and would be the nation”s oldest first-term president. But Obama faces this: Forty percent of white Americans hold at least a partly negative view toward blacks, and that includes many Democrats and independents.

More than a third of white Democrats and independents — voters Obama can”t win the White House without — agreed with at least one negative adjective about blacks, according to the survey, and they are significantly less likely to vote for Obama than those who don”t have such views.

“There are a lot fewer bigots than there were 50 years ago, but that doesn”t mean there”s only a few bigots,” said Stanford political scientist Paul Sniderman, who helped analyze the exhaustive survey.

The findings suggest Obama”s problem is close to home — among his fellow Democrats, particularly non-Hispanic white voters.

Just seven in 10 people who call themselves Democrats support Obama, compared with 85 percent of self-identified Republicans who back McCain.
The survey also focused on the racial attitudes of independent voters, because they are likely to decide the election.

A lot of Republicans harbor prejudices too, but the survey found they weren”t voting against Obama because of his race. Most Republicans wouldn”t vote for any Democrat for president.

Not all whites are prejudiced. Indeed, more whites say good things about blacks than say bad things, the poll shows. And many whites who see blacks in a negative light are still willing or even eager to vote for Obama.

On the other side of the racial question, the Illinois Democrat is drawing almost unanimous support from blacks, the poll shows, though that probably wouldn”t be enough to counter the negative effect of some whites” views.

Race is not the biggest factor driving Democrats and independents away from Obama. Doubts about his competency loom even larger, the poll indicates. More than a quarter of Democrats expressed doubt that Obama can bring about the change they want, and they are likely to vote against him because of that.

Three in 10 of those Democrats who don”t trust Obama”s change-making credentials say they plan to vote for McCain.

Still, the effects of whites” racial views are apparent in the polling.

Statistical models derived from the poll suggest Obama”s support would be as much as 6 percentage points higher if there were no white racial prejudice.

But in an election without precedent, it”s hard to know if such models take into account all the possible factors at play.

Given a choice of several positive and negative adjectives that might describe blacks, 20 percent of whites said the word “violent” strongly applied. Among other words, 22 percent agreed with “boastful,” 29 percent “complaining,” 13 percent “lazy” and 11 percent “irresponsible.” When asked about positive adjectives, whites were more likely to stay on the fence than give a strongly positive assessment.

Among white Democrats, one-third cited a negative adjective and, of those, 58 percent said they planned to back Obama.

The poll sought to measure latent prejudices among whites by asking about factors contributing to the state of black America. One finding: More than a quarter of white Democrats agree that “if blacks would only try harder, they could be just as well off as whites.”

Those who agreed with that statement were much less likely to back Obama than those who didn”t.

Among white independents, racial stereotyping is not uncommon. For example, while about 20 percent of independent voters called blacks “intelligent” or “smart,” more than one-third latched onto the adjective “complaining” and 24 percent said blacks were “violent.”

Nearly four in 10 white independents agreed that blacks would be better off if they “try harder.”

Researchers used mathematical modeling to sort out the relative impact of a huge swath of variables that might have an impact on people”s votes — including race, ideology, party identification, the hunger for change and the sentiments of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton”s backers.

Just 59 percent of her white Democratic supporters said they wanted Obama to be president. Nearly 17 percent of Clinton”s white backers plan to vote for McCain.

Among white Democrats, Clinton supporters were nearly twice as likely as Obama backers to say at least one negative adjective described blacks well, a finding that suggests many of her supporters in the primaries — particularly whites with high school education or less — were motivated in part by racial attitudes.

The survey of 2,227 adults was conducted Aug. 27 to Sept. 5. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.1 percentage points.

How the poll was conducted
Associated Press
This AP-Yahoo News poll , designed in partnership with Stanford University, included overt questions aimed at understanding people”s attitudes toward blacks, such as how well words like “friendly” or “violent” describe blacks. Respondents also were asked their views of Barack Obama and John McCain.

Since many people are uncomfortable discussing race with pollsters and others they do not know, the poll also used subtler techniques.

For one thing, the survey was conducted online. Studies have shown people are more willing to reveal potentially unpopular attitudes on a computer than in questioning by a live interviewer.

The poll also used a technique aimed at measuring what psychologists call “affect misattribution.” This involved showing faces of people of different races quickly on a screen before displaying a neutral image that people were asked to rate as pleasant or unpleasant. Studies have shown that people consciously or unconsciously transfer their feelings about the photograph to the object they are rating.

In addition, random groups of subjects were presented lists with varying numbers of subjects, such as increased federal gasoline taxes, corporations polluting the environment, and a black president. They were then asked how many of those items — not which ones — were upsetting. By comparing each group”s answers, researchers were able to estimate how many people were upset by the items relating to blacks.

The researchers compared the subjects” ages, party identification, perceptions of Obama and McCain and other factors to their racial attitudes. This allowed them to create mathematical formulas predicting the likelihood that people would vote for either Obama or McCain. The models allowed them to estimate how much impact each factor has on each candidate”s support.

By using their formulas, the researchers were able to conclude that race was a factor in how people vote, independent of their other political views and their demographic characteristics. They then used the formulas to predict how much support Obama is losing because of his race.

While the model was exhaustive, it is hard to know if it included every variable that could have an impact in this election.

The AP-Yahoo News Poll is a unique study that has been tracking a group of about 2,000 people from across the country throughout the presidential campaign, starting in November.

This sixth wave of the study included interviews with 2,227 adults between Aug. 27 and Sept. 5. It was conducted by Knowledge Networks of Menlo Park, Calif., under the supervision of AP”s polling unit.

The interviews were conducted online. The original sample was drawn from a panel of respondents Knowledge Networks recruited via random sampling of landline telephone households with listed and unlisted numbers. The company provides Web access to panel recruits who don”t already have it.

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