28 February 2008
Voting Race, Not Issues.
“Do you want to go down in history as the one to prevent a Black from winning the White House?” This is the question that Super-delegate Cleaver was asked by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr of Illinois (politicalticker.com). This assumes that races feel a need to band together regardless of the issues just to elect a person of a specific race into office. Jackson confirmed this conversation and added that the dilemma may pose a career risk for some black politicians. The dilemma he is referring to is the one where many Black Super-delegates had confirmed their support for Clinton, but now their Black districts have voted for Obama. This of course is just one issue in a bundle of many. Not only are there conflicts with Blacks and Whites, but Asians and Latinos have taken a role in the polls.
So far in this campaign, Asians are the one ethnic group that has voted most consistently for Clinton, with the single exception of Hawaii where Obama lived and has family. This has generated a debate that has raised a very touchy and ugly question: Could some Asian Americans not be voting for Obama because he is Black (Cullen)?
Cullen claims Clinton has grabbed hold of the Asian community. In California, Asians make up 8% of the electorate, a CNN poll found they voted three to one in her favor. New York's Asian Legal Defense Fund found that 87% of Asian Democrats back their state's Senator and in New Jersey she pulled 73% of the Asian vote.
Even though Asian cultures are patriarchal, and Clinton is the only female candidate in the field, Asians are finding her a more attractive candidate. Cullen explains despite their cultures, many immigrants from those countries may in fact be more familiar than Americans with a female leader: Indira Gandhi in India, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the Philippines, Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan. And many of those leaders, like Clinton, were married to or descended from former leaders.
While Asians make up just 5% of the population and may not have the numbers to change the nomination one way or another, their overwhelming support for Clinton has led to serious debate about what lies behind it all. Experts have thought about various possible reasons little to do with race. But the touchy question about race is the one getting the most attention (Cullen).
When CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 ran a segment by Gary Touchman implying that racism may play a role in Asian's voting choice, the outcry was instantaneous. Cullen reported that the 80-20 Initiative, a political action committee seeking to solidify at least 80% of Asians in one voting bloc to back Clinton, put together a petition demanding that CNN run a corrected segment..
Still, the idea has stirred some debate in the community.
“Maybe it's just my cynicism speaking, but you look at those numbers and on some level there has to be some element of race,” says Oliver Wang, a sociology professor at California State University at Long Beach. While not discounting the myriad cultural reasons that could explain the support for Clinton, “on a gut level my reaction is that at least some Asian Americans are uncomfortable voting for a black candidate. The images of African Americans that get exported to other cultures is not often positive,” says Wang who teachers about pop culture and race. “It's unusual to find new immigrants who have ever had a meaningful, personal encounter with an African American. So there's a very uninformed bias,” says Wang. “Obama is a different kind of African American,” he adds. “His background doesn't date back to slavery; he is half black, half white; he grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii. In other words he's no Al Sharpton. But those nuances get lost when someone comes from a foreign country. To them, it doesn't translate.” (Cullen 2008)
Wang told Cullen that he is a child of Taiwanese immigrants, even though he was born and grew up in the US. He believes it is the foreign-born Asians who are leading the Clinton support groups. All the talk of change reminds them of the unstable governments they left. That is most plausible non-racial reason for the Asians as a whole supporting Clinton in record numbers.
This may also be part of the reason Clinton has such strong support within the Latino community. Wagtendonk explains that on Super Tuesday, Clinton lost every primary except New York where she received 74% of the Latino vote and in California she received 66% of the Latino vote, more than double that of Obama. These two states had the highest percent of Spanish Speaking voters on 'Super Tuesday.' Her support by the Latino community continued when in New Mexico, Clinton received over 56% of the Latino vote.
Traditionally, there has been a strong rivalry between Spanish Speaking people and African Americans. Each group feeling threaten by the successes of the other. This would make many Latino voters think very hard before casting a vote for a African American man. However, Wagtendonk explains that unlike Asians and African Americans, Latinos are a much less homogeneous community, so this race was expected to be a tight one all the way to the finish.
Juan Williams, in an NPR interview, explained how voting along racial lines is especially strong between Latinos and Blacks. More than two-thirds of the Latino votes cast so far have gone to Senator Clinton. The more than 8.5 million Latinos in Texas helped give her the win over Obama by a 63% to 35% ratio.
Even with the support of two racial communities, Clinton is struggling because the African American community is beginning to pull together behind Obama. In Louisiana, where over half the voters are Black, Obama received 86% of the votes. Williams explains that over 80% of the Black Democrats are voting for Obama, while 60% of the White Democrats are voting for Clinton in the Southern States.
While Senator Clinton won the Ohio Primary, the exit polls showed that race and change were the biggest reasons people gave for choosing their candidate. In Ohio, Blacks make up 19% of the Democrats, but they voted for Obama 89% of the time. Even though Clinton spent millions running ads saying she was all about 'change' those voters who thought change was most the most important deciding factor voted for Obama, 63% of the time (Stein).
Recent polls show that Black women are expected to make up more than a third of all Democratic voters in the South. These women are in an unexpected dilemma, they are the first to ask themselves “Do I vote my gender or my race?” No other political bloc in the country faces this choice (Kaye).
Randi Kaye, a reporter for CNN, went to a hair salon to interview some of these women. Hairdresser Shontell Horlback, who is undecided, says, “It's not like I'm selling out, not that I'm not keeping it real 'cause I am, but keeping it real means the best candidate for the job.” Angela Jackson, the owner of the salon, is out numbered. She supports Clinton. She defends this support by saying “They don't pay my bills. And they are not attached to my belly. Nobody is attached to my belly, but me. They don't feed me, clothe me, I don't care what they think...she's a woman, I'm a woman.” Many of the women in the salon said that they see Michelle Obama as a 'Rock Star', they say they are impressed with her strength and like the idea of a strong Black Woman in the White House. One Obama supporter, Toni Dawson, said “I made the decision, because with Hillary so many Republicans and Independents hate her, that if she was to become President, I think she would get nothing done....With Obama, he is a fresh face. I think he could unite everybody (Kaye).”
Kaye also spoke with Democratic analyst, Jehmu Greene.
Greene said, “We've all wanted the day to come where there was a Black person in the White House, and a time where there was going to be a woman in the the White House. I don't think we imagined it would have to be one or the other.” Geene also said that Black women, including herself, face serious pressure to vote their race. In the Black community, there is an assumption that race trumps gender. “Black women are really politically savvy, and the question of experience is weighing heavy on their mind. Maybe race does trump gender as they're looking at this decision, but I think they also put a very high premium on experience, and that in itself is the real dilemma they are facing.”
Black Super-delegates are being pressured to release their support for Clinton. Black Super-delegates Lewis and Scott, are reflecting on how elected Black officials are being told not to get in the way of a Black becoming President. They are being pressured to vote the same way as their districts, even though the White Super-Delegates who support Obama, who have districts that support Clinton, are not receiving the same pressure. Everyone will be watching to see if the Super-Delegates overturn the election of the people (politicalticker.com).
Cullen, Lisa (2008). “Does Obama Have An Asian Problem?”
Retrieved February 28, 2008
Kaye, Randi (2008). “Gender or Race: Black Women Voters Face Tough Choices in S.C.”
Retrieved March 6, 2008
Politicalticker.com, (2008). “Some Black Superdelegates Reassess Clinton Support.”
Retrieved February 28, 2008
Stein, Sam (2008) “Ohio Exit Polls Show Clinton's Late Attacks Worked”
Retrieved March 6, 2008
Wagtendonk, Reinout (2008). “Hillary Clinton's Hopes Pinned On Latino Vote”
Retrieved February 28, 2008
Williams, Juan (2008) Morning Addition on NPR
Interviewed on February 11, 2008