Monday, October 25, 2004

Race and American Politics

PolySigh's very own Phil Klinkner was quoted in yesterday's Chicago Tribune Magazine devoted to analyzing the role of race in American politics. Several articles in the magazine explore the significance of Barack Obama's senate race for African-American politicians to be elected to statewide office. Most of the assessments conclude that he's an exception; for the most part, Blacks still have a difficult time winning statewide political races because white voters simply will not vote for them, regardless of what they say on a survey. Says Klinkner, "Having a black candidate loses you about five points, assuming all other things are equal. That doesn't mean you automatically lose. But if you spot the other team five points, it's much more difficult." I suspect Obama is an exception and that many factors explain what will be a sure victory next Tuesday. I'd be curious to hear what others think: is Obama's entrance into the U.S. Senate an indication of a significant change in American politics? Should we expect to see several more Black candidates winning statewide (or, dare I say it, national) office in the near future? Or will he be yet another exception to the rule?

11 comments:

MWS said...

It's impossible to argue against a blanket statement like "white voters simply will not vote for them [blacks] regardless of what they say on a survey." How do you disprove that? Any time a black candidate loses, it makes this theory valid, yet apparently when black candidates when, it's the exception that proves the rule. I think there are a number of reasons that might explain the absence of blacks from statewide office other than raw racism. I would argue that black candidates tend to be more liberal or are perceived as more liberal than the electorate and, therefore, lose. This in part stems from the existence of more "minority" districts, which tend to be more liberal; as a result black candidates have to swing left to win their seat and are poorly positioned to convincingly appeal to more moderate voters. There also are or have been relatively few blacks running for statewide office. I certainly can't say that racism is not a factor--how can you disprove that? But it seems pretty simplistic and unfair to ignore what people say and simply attribute their actions to racism. I suspect that, as long as the districts are gerrymandered as they are now, you won't see many blacks winning statewide office.

Thomas said...

Does this mean that Keyes loses 5 points for being black too?

If both Obama and Keyes are each losing 5 points, where will those voters go?

Anonymous said...

I think there's a key difference with Obama. Voters seem to be seeing him as a politician who happens to be black, not a black politician. And that may be the critical distinction.

Devo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Devo said...

Why would gerrymandered districts affect statewide voting?

Not voting for blacks because they are "more liberal" is still stereotyping in (for these individuals) a negative manner. Whether some whites are unwilling to vote for blacks because they don't look like them, believe them to be inferior, are jealous of the size of their genetelia or ability to jump and dance, or because they perceive them to be ignorant, lazy, or liberal is irrelevent - it's still racism.

Anonymous said...

Certain politicians are white regardless of skin color. I don't mean to imply they are "oreos", just that their stature eliminates the 5 point spot. Examples would have to also include Colin Powell and Condi Rice. Conversely, Chappell and Snoop Doggy would start down by way more than 5 points because their blackness seems threatening. We still have a long way to go!

Palooka said...

I honestly don't think being black per se has much of any effect. One of the most popular government officials in American government over the last 15 years? That'd be Colin Powell.

Barack Obama's half white, and was raised by his white family. If that's your exception to the rule ( a rule I don't buy), it's not much of an exception.

I do think that many prominent black figures are pretty scary to most whites, but not because they're black. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Charles Rangel are just radical to most of America.

Two mainstream candidates for study on this question are J.C Watts (Republican) and Harold Ford Jr of Tennessee (Democrat). Though, I guess those aren't "statewide" officeholders (and Watts is no longer currently serving).

MWS said...

"Why would gerrymandered districts affect statewide voting?

Not voting for blacks because they are "more liberal" is still stereotyping in (for these individuals) a negative manner. Whether some whites are unwilling to vote for blacks because they don't look like them, believe them to be inferior, are jealous of the size of their genetelia or ability to jump and dance, or because they perceive them to be ignorant, lazy, or liberal is irrelevent - it's still racism."

Devin,

I don't think I made my point very clearly. My point was that one of the effects (conscious or not) of gerrymandering has been to create minority enclaves that effectively segregate minority populations into single districts. This means that these districts will always have minority representation, but by concentrating the minority population, it eliminates their influence in the non-minority districts. Politically, this means that candidates in the minority districts will naturally tailor their campaigns to policy preferences of that district. The minority districts are likely to be more liberal (that's not a sterotype, I think that's a fact)than the population in general and, since there is no need to appeal to non-minority voters, the candidates in those districts probably develop policy positions that are to the left of the statewide electorate. In effect, what I am arguing is that black candidates, because of the ghettoizing effect of gerrymandering, are forced to develop political identies that are not well-suited to a statewide campaign. Moderate/conservative whites might not vote for a black candidate in a given election, not because he or she is black, but because the policy positions of that candidate are too liberal. That's not racism any more than not voting for Democrats because they policy positions are too liberal. I'm not naive enough to suggest that race doesn't play a role, but I am suggesting that are potentially non-racist reasons for why blacks have not traditionally done well in statewide races. I believe one of these reasons is the gerrymandering of congressional districts to create minority enclaves and until this changes, I think it will be difficult for black candidates to succeed in statewide races.

MWS said...

"Certain politicians are white regardless of skin color. I don't mean to imply they are "oreos", just that their stature eliminates the 5 point spot. Examples would have to also include Colin Powell and Condi Rice. Conversely, Chappell and Snoop Doggy would start down by way more than 5 points because their blackness seems threatening. We still have a long way to go!"

Thanks for the liberal cliche. I don't know who the hell Chappell is, but I wouldn't vote for Snoop Doggy if he looked like John Kerry.

Anonymous said...

You all are stupid, especially Dorian

Philip Klinkner said...

I'm at least as stupid as Dorian.