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Weisberg is Right

- August 26, 2008

Jacob Weisberg at Slate finally wrote the story that most of the press has been unwilling or unable to address: Obama’s race is a significant handicap for his campaign:

Such prejudice usually comes coded in distortions about Obama and his background. To the willfully ignorant, he is a secret Muslim married to a black-power radical. Or—thank you, Geraldine Ferraro—he only got where he is because of the special treatment accorded those lucky enough to be born with African blood. Some Jews assume Obama is insufficiently supportive of Israel in the way they assume other black politicians to be. To some white voters (14 percent in the CBS/New York Times poll), Obama is someone who, as president, would favor blacks over whites. Or he is an “elitist” who cannot understand ordinary (read: white) people because he isn’t one of them. Or he is charged with playing the race card, or of accusing his opponents of racism, when he has strenuously avoided doing anything of the sort. We’re just not comfortable with, you know, a Hawaiian.

I’ve posted on this topic before, but here’s some more data from a late May/early June Gallup poll to consider. Among self-identified Republicans, 92 percent are supporting McCain, just 1 point below the support they gave Bush in 2004. Among self-identified Democrats, however, 82 percent are planning to vote for Obama, a full 7 points below what Kerry got.

What explains this coolness towards Obama among Democrats? Today’s convention coverage is obsessed with the idea that women supporters of Hillary Clinton are failing to join the Obama bandwagon, but women are actually a smaller share (54 percent) of the Democrats cool to Obama than those who are supporting him (56 percent).

Maybe these Democrats are just content with the direction of the country and Bush’s policies? There’s some evidence for this. Among those Democrats cool to Obama, 18 percent approve of President Bush compared to only 2 percent among those who support Obama.

But the big difference, however, between Democrats who do and don’t support Obama, is how they view race. When asked whether they thought Obama would go too far to aid blacks, only 12 percent of Obama supporters thought he would. On the other hand, nearly half (48 percent) of those cool to Obama thought he would go to far.

All the usual caveats apply here, especially the date of the poll. I’ll redo the analysis when I get more recent poll data, but my guess is that not much has changed.