The Dartmouth Observer
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
When Exit Polls become Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
In recent weeks my own naiveté, hallmark of the Obama faithful, encouraged me to reject punditry and accept the notion that despite the contentious battle for the Democratic nomination, there was a good chance that Democrats would be united in their support for the eventual nominee come November. And for at least one side of the intra-party divide, that seems to be the case. The number of Obama supporters who will vote for Hillary Clinton has remained relatively stable over the last major contests with nearly 70% pledging their support for either candidate come fall.
Annoyingly, ironically, but totally unsurprisingly, it is African American voters who the media has accused of dividing the party along racial lines. Fair enough African Americans are voting for Obama by over 90% and represent a huge chunk of his support in nearly every primary election he has won. Yet white commentators, barely constrained by the shackles of political correctness and the black intelligentsia, a class always eager to tell less than successful African Americans exactly what’s wrong with them, have begun to critic African American’s unanimous support for the first African American with a serious chance to win the presidency. Noted black political scientist, Michael Dawson, for example, recently likened African American excitement over Obama to a kind of mass psychosis. However, as we know from exit polls, it is also evident that African Americans have little problem voting for Hillary Clinton. This should surprise no one. During the Lewinsky scandal, African American voters closed ranks around the
White democrats over the last thirty five years however, have rarely exhibited similar political or social flexibility when it comes to race relations. When white Democrats in industrial towns were told they needed to release their stranglehold on racially segregated neighborhoods and open access to good paying jobs they responded by voting en masse for George Wallace in the 1972 Democratic Primary and defecting to Richard Nixon’s presidential bid in November. Over the last 12 years working class white voters have been the spoiled darlings of both political parties, and they seem to know it. So used to being pandered to from the Right and the Center Right, the notion that they will not be able to reverse the will of the African American, young and liberal wings of the party has caused an emotional maelstrom that can best be described as race-pouting. While African Americans turn out in record numbers to support southern Democrats in house elections, like Travis Childers (who distanced himself from Obama) fickle, barely loyal, working class white voters threaten with increasing urgency that they will vote for McCain over Obama come November.
There’s a chance my racially colored social lens has biased my interpretation of events, but when Obama and Hillary agree on 95% of policy, how can we explain these astonishing exit poll numbers? Let’s just take crossover Republicans out of the equation at this point. We can say that age and experience drives these voters towards John McCain, except that many of them voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 and Obama is running a new version of that campaign in 2008. I also think if polled, without Obama in the equation, many “experience” voters would choose less experienced candidates than Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfield for public office at overwhelming rates. We can’t say it’s “character” issues. Even in states where she emerges victorious, more voters find Barack Obama honest, more feel he shares their values and a majority claim that Rev. Wright doesn’t mean very much to them. As controls continue to eliminate other possibilities, racism gains a greater share of the explanatory force behind these exit poll numbers. A large percentage of white Democrats seem unwilling to imagine a black man in the white house.
Yet watch the media over the next few months. If Obama fails to win in November he will be blamed for not “reaching out” to white, “working” (read respectable) people. Already