Polling More than Just Our Prejudices

23 06 2008

Instead of reporting on which presidential candidate fares better with respect to the war in Iraq or who has the better health care plan or better plan for the economy, the Washington Post choose to devote an entire article on the admitted racial and ageist biases of the respondents in a recent Washington Post ABC News poll.

According to the Washington Post, a narrow majority (51 percent) of all those surveyed said race relations were “good” or “excellent,” though an even greater percent (more than six in 10) of African Americans polled had a much sour opinion. Just about three in 10 Americans whites and blacks admitted to harboring “personal racial prejudice.”

But of course with this being election season the real purpose of the poll was not to ask such trite questions about race relations. With a slow news cycle they need to introduce something to feed our idle chatter and so here it is:

At the same time, there is an overwhelming public openness to the idea of electing an African American to the presidency. In a Post-ABC News poll last month, nearly nine in 10 whites said they would be comfortable with a black president. While fewer whites, about two-thirds, said they would be “entirely comfortable” with it, that was more than double the percentage of all adults who said they would be so at ease with someone entering office for the first time at age 72, which McCain (R-Ariz.) would do should he prevail in November.

Does this mean that a country that has historically demonstrated a strong preference for electing old white guys as president is somehow inclined to vote for the black guy because he is younger? Are we now led to believe that ageism trumps racism? No quite.

Even so, just over half of whites in the new poll called Obama a “risky” choice for the White House, while two-thirds said McCain is a “safe” pick. Forty-three percent of whites said Obama has sufficient experience to serve effectively as president, and about two in 10 worry he would overrepresent the interests of African Americans.

Of course, one can never truly know what is meant by such words as “risky” and “safe,” but one can guess that while it cannot be solely reduce to race or age, it indeed has something to do with it. That said, the chief message of the article is clear. Our prejudices are so inescapable they will inevitably define one of the most significant elections in years and diminish any discussion of real issues.

Funny how when John McCain won the 2008 Republican New Hampshire primary no one said he defeated the 64-year old Mayor Rudy Guiliani, or the 61-year old Gov Mitt Romney, or the 52-year old Gov. Mike Huckabee, even though the Arizona Senator is 71 years old. I also don’t recall his age being much of an issue when he won in South Carolina, Florida, New York and so on. But, interestingly enough, McCain’s age suddenly emerging as a hot button issue once he’s paired up against Senator Barack Obama in the general election. This is such a farce.

Most people would rightfully wonder why would anyone simply want to poll just those questions. Well, it didn’t. The truth is that the poll also asked many other questions that did not receive any mention in the article.

For example, when asked who is the stronger leader Obama or McCain, they were tied as 46 percent.

On who would do more to curb the influence of lobbyists in Washington, Obama beats McCain 51 t o 36 percent.

53 percent of the respondents said they thought Obama understood the problems compared to only 35 percent for McCain.

Even on taxes Obama polls better than John McCain 48 to 40.

One stubborn trend that seems to pop up in most polls is that while Obama nearly ties McCain with respect to the war in Iraq 46 to 47 percent, McCain beats him decisively on the war on terror 53 to 39 percent. Thats a fairly interesting finding considering how most people at 63 percent surveyed said the war in Iraq was not worth fighting for compared to 34 percent who said it was indeed worth the effort. It definitely reveals how far Obama has to go to convince people he can handle a foreign policy crisis.

But obviously none of those poll results are newsworthy enough to write an entire article about them.

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