News

    Relative Absence of Race Debate in US Presidential Race Surprises Analysts

    Multimedia

    Audio

    Professor of politics at the University of Virginia Larry Sabato says race has “surprisingly” not been as prominent so far in the U.S. presidential campaign as many analysts expected. When Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination in June, some commentators thought his bid to be the U.S.’s first African American president would provide massive impetus to the race debate in the United States. Sabato is the director of the university’s Center for Politics and the author of more than 20 books on U.S. politics.

    He says while some analysts are relatively surprised that the race question hasn’t featured to a great degree so far in the presidential race, it’s clearly still a factor.

    “Let’s not forget that in the Democratic primaries, the overwhelming majority of African Americans voted for Obama, while about two-thirds of the Hispanics voted for Hillary Clinton, and a large majority of whites did as well,” Sabato recalls.

    Another close watcher of U.S. politics, from an African perspective, is the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s Washington bureau chief, Manelisi Dubase. He agrees that most racial messages put out by both the Obama and McCain campaigns so far have been “subliminal.”

    But he’s also convinced that the “politics of race,” which he says up until now have “shadowed” this election campaign and have mainly been “unspoken,” are set to become more apparent. He points to events a few weeks ago, when McCain accused Obama of “playing politics with race.” This was in response to the Democrat’s claim that Republicans were trying to frighten voters away from him by saying that he “doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.”

    Dubase says, “Up until this happened, the subject of race was a hot potato, almost taboo, in this campaign. This was the first time that the skin color issue exploded into the open, and I think it’s an indication of things to come. Things are going to get dirty, and there’s nothing more dirty than racism or even suggestions thereof.”

    But Sabato is of the opinion that the McCain campaign is “smart enough to know that if they overtly use race against Barack Obama, it will backfire in probably a fatal way for McCain.”

    He agrees, though, that the Republicans, including McCain support groups, may be tempted to use Obama’s race against him but adds that the “most important aspect” with regard to race in this campaign may well only emerge on Election Day itself.

    “The question that all pollsters and analysts have is this: Will there be racial leakage? Will you have a certain percentage of whites who have told pollsters in advance that they’re voting Democratic, who go into the polls, and, once they’re alone, end up voting for the white candidate because they just can’t pull the lever down for the African American nominee?” Sabato asks.

    The analyst says this has indeed happened in some races for governor and mayor all across the United States “for decades” – although to a lesser degree in recent years.

    Sabato’s convinced that some whites will not be able to bring themselves to vote for Obama, simply because he’s black. He says it’s “anybody’s guess” as to what extent this happens, but says it could ultimately be the “difference between victory and defeat.”

    Sabato has a history of successfully predicting political outcomes. In the 2004 U.S. campaign, he correctly predicted the fate of 525 of the 530 political races in the Electoral College. In 2006, his forecast that the Democrats would win a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate was again spot-on.

    “There’s no question about it; African Americans are going to give Barack Obama at least 95 per cent of their votes, in a large turnout. Now, that could also generate a large white turnout…come November the 4th,” says Sabato.

    But Dubase says “simple demographics” are the reason why Obama will not concentrate too much on the politics of race. He points out that in 2004 about 15 million African Americans registered to vote, in contrast with about 140 million white Americans. African-Americans make up a mere 13 per cent of the U.S. population of just over 300 million. Dubase says in this context it makes “far more sense” for Obama to try to gain the support of the white majority than for him to emphasize the color of his skin and racial inequality in an attempt to “curry favor with those he already has in his pocket.”

    However, Dubase also highlights the fact that the candidate who wins the popular vote in the United States doesn’t always win the presidency, and the African American vote could prove key in swinging certain states – and possible victory in the election – Obama’s way.

    “The Obama camp is in a dilemma. They cannot afford to concentrate too much on race, because then they risk antagonizing or alienating whites. On the other hand, they cannot afford to ignore race, because they want a large African American turnout, especially in certain states. So, it’s a delicate balancing act.”

    Dubase says many older Africans remember U.S. civil rights leader Jesse Jackson’s unsuccessful campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988 and are concerned that “white America is still not prepared to be led by a black man.” Some analysts say the abrasive Jackson failed in his bids because he emphasized race excessively, and Obama wants to avoid that.

    “Obama couldn’t be more different than Jesse Jackson, who is exceptionally confrontational,” says Sabato. “He (Jackson) was a black candidate for president; Obama is a candidate for president who happens to be black. The contrast could not be more dramatic.”

    Dubase says the fact that Obama isn’t part of the U.S. civil rights generation and seems to be “all about appeasement rather than confrontation” is working at the moment because it’s in line with Obama’s “message of change,” and his desire to be considered a “statesman for all Americans” and a “peacemaker rather than a warmonger.”

     

     

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
    X
    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora