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Racial Attitudes and Vote Choice

- June 23, 2008

The Washington Post has a new poll out that probes the impact of racial attitudes in the presidential race. The key, but altogether unsurprising, finding is that racial attitudes have a big impact on whites’ candidate preferences, even when you control for partisanship:

Putting several measures together into a “racial sensitivity index” reveals that these attitudes have a significant impact on vote preferences, independent of partisan identification. Combining answers to questions about racist feelings, perceptions of discrimination and whether the respondent has a close personal friend of another race into a three-part scale shows the importance of underlying racial attitudes.

Whites in the top sensitivity group broke for Obama by nearly 20 percentage points, while those in the lowest of the three categories went for McCain by almost 2 to 1.

A similar pattern holds among Democrats. Obama scores more than 20 points better among nonblack Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents in the “high” group than he does among those in the “low” group.

Obama has some convincing to do among the 29 percent of whites who fall into the scale’s lowest category. (Twenty-one percent were in the top grouping, 50 percent in the middle.) Almost six in 10 whites in the low-sensitivity group see him as a risky choice, and a similar percentage said they know little or nothing about where he stands on specific issues. Nearly half do not think his candidacy will alter race relations in the country; 20 percent think it will probably make race relations worse.

Kudos to the Post for shining some light on this issue. Perhaps they might want to go the extra step and make the data available to researchers in a timely fashion.

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