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Asking About Obama's Race

Topics: 2008 , The 2008 Race

The 2,500-word examination of Barack Obama and race in today's Washington Post touches briefly on the issue of whether polling, "once" considered "wildly unreliable" in races involving black and white candidates might be more trustworthy than in past elections. It quotes Scott Keeter of the Pew Research Center, who co-authored a report on the issue back in February.

But what caught my eye is a bit of overlooked survey data relevant to the larger story. Consider the tongue-in-cheek reaction to the Post story this morning from Time's Ana Marie Cox:

Barack Obama is black. No, seriously, he is.

Washington Post is ALL OVER this story.

But believe it or not, not all Americans know that Obama is black. Here is the result released just last Friday from a national sample of adults surveyed by Quinnipiac University (Q33):

What race do you consider Barack Obama?

2% White
45% Black
0% Asian
7% Mixed/other
9% Mixed Black and White
37% Don't know

The results to this question show virtually no variation by party. Among Democrats, 48% consider Obama black, 7% mixed/other, 7% mixed black and white.

One thing unclear as of this writing: Did interviewers read the two "mixed" categories to respondents or did respondents volunteer those answers? I will check on that, but if "mixed" was not presented as an option, some confusion is to be expected given Obama's famously "biracial and multinational background" (to quote the Post article). [UPDATE: Doug Schwartz at Quinnipiac emails that this questions was entirely open-ended and did not prompt respondents with any categories].

Meanwhile, there is a very intriguing cross-tabulation I would like to see: How much different are the results to the primary horserace question and the Obama favorable rating among the 63% of Democrats that answered the question correctly as compared to the 37% that did not. The Democratic sample is relatively small (n=499) but still large enough for such a comparison. Unfortunately, the survey has nowhere near enough interviews to allow the really interesting test: How African-American Democrats answered this question.

 

Comments
rana:

"How much different are the results to the primary horse race question and the Obama favorable rating among the 63% of Democrats that answered the question correctly as compared to the 37% that did not" Does this statement make sense? ALL respondents answered the question correctly, as it was framed by "what do YOU THINK his race is", and "I don't know" is a perfectly valid answer. Indeed, mine, would be "I don't know, and I don't really care." Is Joakim Noah black? Same answer.

____________________

james:

Considering that less than a quarter of the country can find Iraq on a map, the fact that a third of the country can't name Obama's race doesn't surprise me.

Have we polled whether people can spell his name (or Iraq, for that matter) correctly?

____________________

Neil Yates:

I guess after all is said and done, I am an English-American.

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