I have not seen that it got a lot of play nationally — though admittedly I did not watch much TV over the weekend — but a couple of the local papers were full of mischievous AP material seemingly aimed at turning the clock back to the ugly part of this year’s Democratic primaries, if not much, much further. In particular, AP’s Ron Fournier takes the opportunity of this week of national economic crisis to publicize a poll done with Stanford University that gave whites a chance to apply various racially charged adjectives to describe blacks:
WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 that the percentage of voters who may turn away from Obama because of his race could easily be larger than the final difference between the candidates in 2004 – about 2.5 percentage points.
Historians will be shocked — shocked — that racism has not evaporated overnight because an African-American won a major party presidential nomination. To round out the story, Fournier and company find the grumpiest old guys in some working-class Ohio diner to make a few racist remarks, all along making various defeatist insinuations about the Obama campaign.
The underlying message seems to be that Republicans should rest easier, even now that McCain has started to fall behind in the polls again. Thanks to racism, McCain is ahead of Obama even if he is way behind. So, congratulations, GOP, prejudice is still your friend.
But guess what? AP implies that the real problem is actually Democratic racism. “Lots 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 — white, black or brown.” That’s right, GOP voters in white-flight suburbs never ever vote for black candidates or a candidate friendly to black people, but only because they care about the issues. Voting for the GOP in the first place has nothing at all to do with race. Riiiight. Of course, the m.o. in many of these ‘burbs, especially the wealthier ones, is not being a racist by never personally encountering poor people of other races in a non-employee context.
Political scientist Nate Silver explains why the AP’s leap from the racial attitudes found in the poll to measurable race-based voting effects is not borne out by the data. I don’t have Silver’s statistical expertise or mathematical voting models, but it is easy to enough tell that national Democratic candidates of any race almost never run as well the local Democrats in white working-class areas. And haven’t since the late 1960s. These were the fabled “Reagan Democrats” of yore, at least the northern division of them. I am guessing that Obama will not do much worse than John Kerry or Al Gore in those places, but in some of them he will do a lot better.
Presumably the tactic behind Fournier’s story is to continue the “Democratic screw-up” meme by implying that if the liberals had only let Hillary Clinton have the nomination, instead of Obama, then white working-class voters would now be enthusiastically supporting the ticket. Uh, right. Tell me the guy who would say this to a reporter in a public place would be singing Hillary’s praises instead: “‘We still don’t like black people,’ said John Clouse, 57, reflecting the sentiments of his pals gathered at a coffee shop in Somerset, Ohio.” They sure seem like probable feminists to me. (Joke! I suspect they were against wimmin’s-libbers before the idea of black presidential candidate ever crossed their mental transoms.)
What I really don’t understand is why responsible scholars of public opinion would be involved in releasing such a poll just before an election, other than money and attention. Especially if you sincerely believe racism remains a problem in this country, as I suppose the scholars in question must, it does not seem helpful to encourage whites in the idea that their prejudices are secretly shared by their neighbors. Or does this poll emanate one of Stanford’s conservative think-tank branches? That would explain a lot.