Did race affect the presidential election?
By Lauren Bach
Were votes cast for or against President-Elect Barack Obama because of the color of his skin?
Election Day has come and gone: Obama won 364 electoral votes versus McCain’s 162. Obama won about 52 percent of the popular vote versus McCain’s 46 percent.
Steve Brown says that the race of the candidates did not affect his vote. Brown, 53, is a chemistry and physical science teacher at Lugoff-Elgin High School. A registered Republican, Brown voted for McCain on Election Day.
For Brown, Obama’s race and historic candidacy were not as important as the issues – for example, where he stood on the U.S. economic crisis. Brown said he voted for McCain because “He had the experience and training from the military to prosecute the martial strategy and the experience in Congress to address economic and social issues.”
However, Brown acknowledged the impact of Obama as the first African-American presidential nominee. “It has certainly influenced the contest, and I think it has polarized segments of society.”
Dan Cook says that race has definitely been addressed in this election, but mostly in positive ways. “The historic nature of his candidacy has been widely trumpeted and embraced by the media,” he says of Obama. Cook, 40, is editor of the Free Times, a free alternative weekly paper in Columbia.
But Cook notes some negative news coverage of Obama’s campaign, in particular about Barack Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who was criticized for a speech on race and religion given March 18. When the event broke headlines, Pew Research Center conducted a survey of the electorate, finding that “fully 75% of Republican voters who reported hearing at least a little about Wright's sermons say they were offended by them, compared with 52% of independents and just 43% of Democrats.”
According to Cook, “There was very little discussion of what it means to be a black preacher in America and why Wright might express the viewpoints that he has expressed.” Cook added, “It's fine to disagree with Wright's views, but the media should have done a better job putting them in the context of the black experience.”
Cook also expected race to play a role in voter turnout and choice. “Race is obviously playing a significant role with African-American voters, who are showing overwhelming support for Obama. However […] blacks typically support any Democrat in large numbers.”
Exit polls showed that 95 percent of black voters chose Obama, up from 88 percent of black voters supporting U.S. Senator John Kerry, the Democratic nominee in 2004. However, black voters only make up 13 percent of the electorate, and while that percentage is up from past elections, white voters lead as nearly 75 percent of the electorate.
Lucinda Pierce predicted that many people might vote against Obama because of his race. “I think for those people, Jesus Christ himself could come back to earth as a black man and still not get their vote.” Pierce, 24, is a graduate student and a stay-at-home mom from Sumter. She is a registered Republican who was an undecided voter right up until Election Day.
But only 7 percent of the white electorate said that race would affect their vote, and about 66 percent of those voters chose McCain on Election Day, according to Pew Research Center. The majority of white voters, 92 percent, said that race was not a factor in their vote.
However, in the South only 31 percent of whites voted for Obama, “while he garnered the support of about half of white voters living in other regions,” according to exit polls.
Bach is an undergraduate English major at Columbia College, a private liberal arts women's college in Columbia, South Carolina.