US election: Points of separation

Bankole Thompson

If the presidential election is close enough on Nov. 4, racism could hand the Republican nominee Sen. John McCain a victory, according to recent polls showing that Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama is having a hard time winning over older white Democrats because of his race.

In key states like Michigan and Ohio — often referred to as “old states” because of the high concentration of retirees there — Obama may have to bank on younger whites who are mostly excited about his campaign to come out in droves on Election Day, or face the grim possibility of losing thanks to a Democratic voting bloc of white senior citizens who may defect to McCain.

An AP-Yahoo News poll last week found that one-third of whites, both Democrat and Republican, have negative views about African Americans, describing them as “lazy” and

“violent” and responsible for their own predicaments. The national poll found that Obama could lose six percentage points in the general elections simply because of his race.

“Racism is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about in this election. There are whites who are not comfortable voting for an African American as president of this country,” said Steve Mitchell, a 50-year veteran pollster of Mitchell Research and Communications Inc. Mitchell said during the Democratic presidential primary race every exit poll conducted overstated white support for Obama and understated Hillary Clinton’s white backing.

“Some voters were not honest about their true choices in the presidential race,” Mitchell said. “My son is 26. He finds Obama exciting. But older whites don’t. To say these things can happen in 2008 is true. This is America.” Mitchell said most of those older white voters resettled in battleground states of Ohio and Michigan after migrating from the South during Jim Crow in the 1960s. As they migrated to the Midwest, they brought with them strong racial sentiments resulting from tensions between whites and blacks over equality and justice.

“These older voters grew up in a different society in the South. It’s hard to undo those racial feelings they brought to these states [Michigan and Ohio],” Mitchell said. “They’d prefer to vote for McCain than an African American candidate for president. Some of them vote Republican anyway.””

Political analyst DeAmo Murphy who worked as a consultant for the Democratic National Committee in Iowa during Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 presidential bid, said it will be a grave mistake for Democrats to vote against Obama because of his race.

“The true reaction to watch, however, is not that of the black voters (franchised or not). It will be those who share the pain and disillusionment of the last eight years in common with blacks, yet on Election Day, may find themselves voting for the white candidate even if it is in direct conflict with their own self-interest,” Murphy said.

Will Democrats vote against their own economic interest because of Obama’s colour in an election where the economy is defining campaign messages? Mark Brewer, chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, is optimistic that will not be the case. “In the end, the economy will trump every other issue. That’s why it is important for us to get out and talk about it,” he said.