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A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have! - Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, May 4, 2008

African-American Support Could Hurt Obama, Duke Expert Says

The enthusiastic turnout of African-American voters on Barack Obama’s behalf in the primaries and caucuses could backfire, leading to defections from some white supporters, according to a Duke University political scientist who studies race, politics and gender.

Obama has a rally planned today in Chapel Hill, N.C., in advance of the May 6 North Carolina primary.

“I think these patterns are legitimate issues to raise in the campaign, as the Clinton camp has subtly and not-so-subtly done,” says Kerry L. Haynie, an associate professor of political science. “They speak to the issues of his viability and electability.”

Haynie is co-director of Duke’s Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Social Sciences. He is also co-editor of the forthcoming book, “New Race Politics in America, Understanding Minority and Immigrant Politics.”

According to Haynie, two historical patterns illustrate how and why race matters in the 2008 presidential election. He says the more African-American support Democratic candidates such as Obama receive, the greater the risk of them losing white supporters. He cites research showing that whites, especially low-income whites, are often less likely to vote for a Democratic candidate if he or she is identified with black voters. He says poll numbers indicate the Mississippi and Ohio primaries are examples of this pattern.

“I am certain that these issues and these patterns are on the minds of many of the Democratic superdelegates,” he says.

Secondly, researchers have found that in black-white electoral contests, pre-election polls tend to overestimate white voter support for black candidates. This pattern could suggest that current polling data inflates the true support that Obama has among whites.

“For a number of reasons, some white voters indicate support for black candidates in polls and surveys, but don’t follow through at the ballot box,” Haynie says. He points to the campaign of former Virginia governor Douglas Wilder. “The polls estimated Wilder's lead to be between 4 and 11 percentage points. When the actual votes were counted, however, Wilder won by just six-tenths of a percentage point.”

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