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"Is America Ready?"

Topics: 2008 , The 2008 Race

"Is America Ready?" That's the question posed on the cover of this week's Newsweek featuring Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, a recent Newsweek poll, and other recent national surveys conducted by Gallup, Fox News, NBC/Wall Street Journal, Rasmussen Reports and Cook/RT Strategies. The question of whether U.S. voters are ready to elect a woman, an African American - or a Mormon for that matter - is something that political junkies will presumably continue to ponder for the course of the 2008 campaign. For those pondering such a question now, let me suggest a resource (and interview with Democratic pollster Celinda Lake) and one possibly overlooked point (about the candidacy of Harold Ford, Jr.).

In an interview that aired over the weekend (via an AAPOR member), my long-ago boss Celinda Lake spoke with NPR's Scott Simon about the challenges of asking the kinds of questions included in most of the recent surveys. Although she was understandably vague, given the nature of the brief interview, about how she arrived at her conclusions, Lake argued that 5 to 10 percent of voters lie on such questions, giving "tell the interviewer what they believe is the politically correct thing to say." She also made this notable observation:

It's very hard to poll now because people are reading in partisanship. So where Republicans and Democrats used to be equally supportive of a woman for president, when you ask that now, Republicans are less supportive because they assume you mean Hillary Clinton.

The same question - Is America ready for a woman or an African American president - also came up at the post-election conference I attended last week, and the four pollsters generally agreed that a race involving Clinton or Obama was not likely to be about race or gender. Many pointed to the Tennessee Senate race as evidence that the race of Democrat Harold Ford Jr. did little to limit his appeal. Several panelists throughout the day said that given the partisanship, Ford did as well as any Democrat could have, adding that a candidate like Jim Webb won in Virginia only because Virginia is less Republican than Tennessee.

The exit polls for Tennessee and Virginia tend to support that point. Both Democratic candidates received exactly the same percentage of support from Democratic partisans. Ford's race was certainly no unique barrier to those that identified as Democrats, although Webb did slightly better among independents (though one might quibble about the statistical significance of that difference. Similarly, in the Maryland Senate race, African American Republican Michael Steele did precisely as well among Republicans (94%) as Corker in Tennessee and Allen in Virginia.

12-18%20senate%20exits.png

Of course, one point made by both Celinda Lake in her NPR interview and Democratic pollster Harrison Hickman at the Cook Conference is that people think of presidents, and evaluate potential presidents, differently than Senators and Governors. As with all of the most interesting questions, we will have to wait and see what the political future holds.

 

Comments
David T:

I think that people who blame racism for Ford's defeat should remember not only how close he came in a Republican-leaning state, but also that he is from a *very* controversial family. (Needless to say, that last consideration is also relevant to Hillary, but the difference is that the Clintons have many fans as well as haters, whereas very few white Tennesseeans have positive feelings about Harold Ford's relatives...)

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Crimso:

As a Tennessean who did not vote for Ford, I can say that it was primarily for two reasons: lack of real-world experience (Corker has actually had to meet payrolls, as well as act in an executive capacity in government), and a strong desire to not see the likes of that one-man culture of corruption and ultra-hypocrite Harry Reid in charge of the Senate. OTOH, I'd bet that more people voted for Ford primarily because he's black rather than against him. Be interesting for a pollster to look into that, though the problems noted above would certainly cloud such data.

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VinceTN:

I voted for Corker for the same reasons. I like Ford as an individual but I don't believe he deserved a Senator's status at this time with his experience and I didn't want that old maid in pants Reid running the Senate. It was likely color-devotion that gave him the high margin Ford had. Of course, white Dems and "journalists" were determined to place failure at the feet of unreformed Rebels dreaming of Jim Crow's return.

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Crimso:

As if the rest of the country has a glowing record of sending blacks to the Senate. Or even having them nominated to run. I think Ford's future is bright, whether or not I'll vote for him in the future.

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iago:

Sounds like the same old motive-mongering to me. Would his family have mattered as much if he were white?

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Crimso:

Sounds like Iago is wholly unfamiliar with the Ford family. Read up a little and then see how your question sounds. If Corker had family members in similar troubles, he'd be crucified by the hypocritical left and the press.

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Mark:

I found some analysis on another site which seems to suggest that, if a racial motive existed for voting, it may have benefitted Ford more than it hurt him.
http://someoneneedstosayit.blogspot.com/2006/11/imus-harold-ford-jr-and-racism.html

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Sir Dorky Bastard:

A lot of people brought up the fact that democratic female challengers fared worse than male counterparts, but when I followed it up, it seemed that Democratic women fared a lot worse than the house, but there's wasn't a readily seen major disparity between the performance of men and women in the Senate.
Any reasons why this might be the case?

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JorgXMcKie:

Dorky, if I had to guess, I'd say that House races are more 'personal' and Senate races are more 'impersonal'. That is, in all but small population states House members aim at a much smaller, much more homogenous electorate while Senators have to represent a larger number of interests. House members are seen as being 'close' to the voters while Senators are more 'distant'. Thus, House candidates are judged by how much we'd like to 'associate' with them while Senate candidates are more judged on competence.

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