New Report: Race and Politics

by Peter Katel, July 18, 2008

Will skin color influence the presidential election?

The once unthinkable could happen this November: A black man may win the U.S. presidency. When freshman Illinois Sen. Barack Obama was born in 1961, African-Americans couldn’t vote in some parts of the United States. Now, as he prepares to accept the Democratic nomination in August, Obama is running slightly ahead of his presumptive Republican opponent, Arizona Sen. John McCain, a 71-year-old Vietnam War hero. First dogged by questions of whether he was “black enough,” Obama now faces doubts about whether racial prejudice will prove a major obstacle to his historic campaign, especially among white working-class voters. Nonetheless, Obama is likely to benefit from changes in the country’s demographic makeup, which is growing less white as immigration diversifies the population. Meanwhile, younger voters are showing notably less racial prejudice than older generations. At the same time, some top Republicans acknowledge the GOP needs to appeal to a broader range of voters if McCain is to win.

  • Has Republican Party identification with white Southerners cost it support in other regions?
  • Can the Democrats attract white, working-class votes outside the South?
  • Is race a major factor in the presidential election?
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