Earlier this year, race became an
issue in the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign. Several public opinion polls
suggest Americans are divided by race leading up to the November election, in
which Obama is the first African-American to run as a major party's
nominee. In this feature on race and
U.S. politics, Voice of America's Chris
Simkins reports on the views of rural and urban voters and whether they are
ready for a black president.
Democratic Senator Barack Obama could possibly become the first African-American president of the United States. It would be a milestone for a country that needed the 1965 Voting Rights Act to lift restrictions on blacks voting.
Political observers say
the moment Obama launched his campaign, it was inevitable that race would
become an issue. The debate over race and Obama's candidacy has exposed differences
between voters who live in urban and those in rural areas. In his Democratic
Party primary battle against Senator Hillary Clinton, Obama was unable to win a
majority of white working class voters in rural communities in several large
states. VOA surveyed voters in
Lewistown, Pennsylvania, a rural community that traditionally supports
Eighteen year-old Allison Bubb says
she is skeptical about Obama, "I don't think that America is ready for
anything new. My friends that I talk to feel we don't think we are ready. I
think we need to just skip this vote and keep going like we usually do with a
white older male."
And in Franklin, West Virginia,
another rural town, Edward Tallman, a newspaper editor, says people in rural
areas are not ready for Obama, "I do not believe the majority of
Appalachian blue collar (working class) white people are ready for that."
Experts say racism persists across
the country but especially in low income, rural communities in southern and
border states like Mississippi and Arizona.
Big U.S. cities have traditionally
been Democratic strongholds. VOA surveyed voters in New York, Miami and Los
Angeles. Many felt their communities are more able to elect Obama than people
in other parts of the country. Maria, a
voter from Miami, Florida says, "Especially in the middle of the country
people still have the background of racism and it might be more subconscious
that they just do not vote for him but they don't think it is because of
A voter from New York City says,
"I have lived in New York and New Jersey, and I believe New York and New
Jersey can but I do not know about any other part of America."
Foo Kong, from Los Angeles, thinks he
sees the situation clearly, "I think that the ideas are divided here in
America. Although it has taken a century to fight against racial
discrimination, in various parts of America there is still
Thomas Mann of the Brookings
Institution is unable to predict how much support Obama will lose because of
racial prejudice, "I do not know
whether it is two percent, six percent, eight percent and whether it is felt
mainly by people who would never vote for a Democratic candidate already or
whether it is among Democrats who won't vote Democratic because their nominee
Political analysts say whether or not
Barack Obama wins the race for the White House and becomes president, he has
changed the political landscape and has broken one of America's oldest and most
rigid lines -- the color line that separates black and white.