Through a Glass, Darkly: How Whites See Blacks, How Politics Color Everything.

There’s been a lot of buzz on the Internet about an Associated Press-Yahoo News poll of the attitudes of whites toward blacks, and the possible effect of those attitudes on the presidential election. This is a summary of the poll results, from the AP article Poll: Racial views steer some white Dems away from Obama:

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,” 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 two and one-half percentage points.

More than a third of all white Democrats and independents — voters Obama can’t win the White House without — agreed with at least one negative adjective about blacks, according to the survey, and they are significantly less likely to vote for Obama than those who don’t have such views.

“There are a lot fewer bigots than there were 50 years ago, but that doesn’t mean there’s only a few bigots,” said Stanford political scientist Paul Sniderman who helped analyze the exhaustive survey.

The pollsters set out to determine why Obama is locked in a close race with McCain even as the political landscape seems to favor Democrats. President Bush’s unpopularity, the Iraq war and a national sense of economic hard times cut against GOP candidates, as does that fact that Democratic voters outnumber Republicans.

The survey of 2,227 adults was conducted Aug. 27 to Sept. 5.

Some of the more troubling findings of the poll are summarized in this graphic:

That graphic is worth a thousand words, all of them disheartening. When you consider that less than 30% of whites surveyed consider African Americans to be Law-Abiding, Hard-Working, Smart at Everyday Things, Intelligent at School, or Dependable… that is extremely troubling.

There’s been a lot of pushback regarding the AP’s reporting of the poll. The site Jack and Jill Politics asked rhetorically “Riddle me this, ladies and gentlemen…how come this article is coming out just as Obama is taking the lead again in all the polls? I’m just askin’.”

The lead writer for the article, Ron Fournier of the AP, has been criticized for being pro-McCain, and therefore lacking in impartiality.

Meanwhile, a posting by Al Giordano of the site The Field deconstructs the AP article and Fournier’s interpretation of the survey results, in a piece titled The AP’s Ron Fournier: Racial Arsonist and Unethical Journalist. Giordano’s posting is required reading. He notes:

One third of white Democrats agreed with a negative adjective about African-Americans. But 58 percent of those supposed “racists” – a majority of them – are still voting for a particular African-American in specific. And that’s supposed to be “bad news” for Obama’s candidacy?

In fact, if we review the actual poll – rather than Fournier’s spin – it provides very good news for those that want Obama to win.

In the real data from the AP poll, Obama’s favorable-to-negative rating (54 percent favorable to 41 negative, or 13+) is better than McCain’s (50 to 42, or 8+). And Obama towers over McCain among those that have a “very favorable” opinion of each candidate, with 30 percent to just 13 for McCain.

Obama leads this poll (which casts a net much wider than “likely voters” or even “registered voters”): Obama 40 percent to 35 for McCain. Bob Barr receives one percent support and Ralph Nader, 2 percent.

If you take away the undecideds, that’s Obama 51.2 percent to McCain 44.8 percent with third party candidates getting the remaining four percent.

My take: it’s a shame that the survey is being politicized. If large numbers of whites are holding these negative attitudes about blacks, we should be talking about the social forces that are leading to these views – such as the negative ways that African Americans are portrayed in the media, which is my pet peeve.

But instead of the survey results being analyzed for what they say about society, they are being interpreted for what they say about the election campaign. And that has led to the survey being discussed through the filter of partisan politics and horse-race election coverage… to the point where the issues raised by the poll are being pushed to the side.

Perhaps, after the election is over, we can revisit this survey and see how the results can be used to take a status check on the state of black/white relations. But that might be too audacious to hope for.

UPDATE: To further illustrate how the poll has become ridiculously politicized, consider these comments from Pagan Power, which is a viciously anti-Obama blog. The writer describes the poll as a “So-Called Scientific Scam from an Obama surrogate”(!), and has these choice comments:

The latest AllBarack-Loco (cleverly disguised as AP-Yahoo) poll has concluded that the reason many “white” voters don’t support Obarky for President is because he is black.

[…] History is fraught with countless examples of terrible things done because otherwise good people believed in the propaganda they were continually fed. If you have watched enough political commercials you might easily believe that John McCain is George Bush in an older body and white hair. But the truth is that he isn’t.

Perhaps this is the HOPE Obama has been talking about all along. He is hoping people buy into this ridiculous bull**** presented as fact and support him so they aren’t labeled racists.

One thought on “Through a Glass, Darkly: How Whites See Blacks, How Politics Color Everything.

  1. Kudos for trying to take a nuanced approach to this. You are correct, this poll detracts from the more valuable question of why doe people feel this way about blacks. What kind of society do we live where so many people retain such blatant stereotypes about others. Still, we can’t help but ask how these results will play a role on Nov. 4.

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