Does race matter? That really is a silly question? If you're asking the question, then you already know the answer. All three campaigns and the press have been dancing around this question, even after Obama's speech in Philly last month, because it is still a hot button topic in America. But even the most optimistic of observers would have to agree that not only does race matter, but it is perhaps the single issue that is going to decide this election.
I had a conversation recently with a friend of mine and we were discussing the Democratic primary and I said that I thought Obama would have the hard convincing some of Hillary's supporters to vote for him, especially older white women. Her exact remark was, "I really resent that". I wasn't making that statement based on anything other than what the numbers have shown. Hillary's support is the greatest among older white women and therefore they would be the hardest to convert into Obama voters. However it was interpreted as a racial statement and therefore the reaction was based on that.
Race (pardon the pun) colors everything in political life. Up until now, Blacks and Women had no choice (for the most part) but to vote for a white male when it came to presidential preferences. Now that there is some variety among the candidates, people have begun to line up behind the person who looks most like them. Blacks now vote at a nearly 9-1 clip for Obama, while older white women vote for Hillary by a 7-3 margin. The bottom line here is that voters are most likely to vote for someone who looks like them. Older Black women are voting overwhelmingly for Obama, so clearly they are not influenced by being in the same age bracket as Hillary Clinton. There has to be something else in the equation and that something is clearly race.
I'm not saying that people who vote for Obama and Clinton are racists, but they certainly take race into account and it is a lot bigger part of the equation than people are willing to admit to. The fact that only 16% of polled voters in Pennsylvania were willing to admit that race played a factor in their decision proves the general delusion that most of America is living under (or proves that most Americans lie to pollsters). Chris Rock once said that the most racist people in America are old Black men because of what they've had to live through. Now what do you think older Black people are considering when they go the voting booth and see the first viable Black candidate for the nation's highest position on the ballot? Are they considering his experience? Sure. Are they considering his policies? Of course. Are they comparing him to the competition? Without a doubt. Are they considering his race? ABSOLUTELY, UNEQUIVOCALLY, YES, YES, YES. The same can be said of older white women who enter the voting booth only they have the added bonus of gender as well (lest you think that only Blacks would vote on such a issue).
The issue, as I've said before, is not whether race plays a major part in the decision making of most voters, it's whether either candidate will be able to overcome this obstacle in the fall. Obama has the bigger problem here and I'll tell you why. Black voters (who are the most reliable voting block in the country) are not only used to voting Democrat, they realize that there is no real option for them. Republicans turned their backs on the issues of the Black community a long time ago. Voting Republican just wouldn't' make any sense to them. Some may stay home, but the truth is that the vast majority of them would return to the fold and vote Democratic even if they feel ambivalent about the party's candidate. However, Hillary's most fervent supporters would have an option. I've written before that I feel this group will split into three equal parts, those who vote Democratic, those that vote Republican and those that stay home. As long as the press continues to give John McCain a free ride, he will certainly appear more attractive to some of Hillary's core supporters. He's in their age range, he's a moderate (an absolute lie, but one the press seems unwilling to challenge), he tells it like it is and he sticks to his guns (more lies) and let's not forget, most importantly, he's White which provides a natural level of comfort and is his biggest selling point to some Democrats.
I'm using the most polarized groups of supporters in order to illustrate the point, but this will play itself, to lesser degrees among almost all Democratic voters. The Bradley effect (vote totals being lower for Black candidates than what the polls suggest) is real. There are people who will simply be unable to pull the lever to vote for a Black President regardless of what they say in public or to pollsters. The famed melting pot that comprises the population of the country does not always breed a greater understanding of other cultures. It can and does, in some, breed animosity and fear. It is that fear, which is expressed in various ways, which leads to voting patterns along racial, religious and ethnic grounds. At the end of the day, regardless of what you label it, it all adds up to the same thing. And to those who think that I'm a racist for pointing this out, I would wholeheartedly disagree and ask you to really try and take an honest look at the country we live in. We are supposed to believe that all men are created equal, but do we? Given our checkered past, I believe the answer to be fairly self evident.