Asking the Question Unvarnished

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At a recent strategy meeting among fellow progressive activists, Sharon and I were surprised to learn that our politically savvy friends felt that California as a whole and even our bluer-than-blue Los Angeles neighborhood was very much in play in November. Click here to see survey bar charts.

Around the table, one friend after another told of Latino and Asian acquaintances who talked of staying home come this fall’s presidential election, of women who felt Hillary “wuz robbed” and are now considering John “For Christ’s Sake” McCain, of their own fears that the right wing’s predictable ploy of trotting out yet another homophobic initiative would once again draw the haters out of the woodwork in startling numbers.

The one of us whose great-grandparents were slaves has a dimmer worldview and thought this was the other shoe that was sure to drop: No matter how much we Americans want to pretend we’re the bright, shining beacon on the hill, ready now to show the world how we’ve evolved morally, that a black man—or any person of color—won’t be moving into our White House anytime soon, not as president.

The other of us, who’s something of a cockeyed optimist, has thought for some time that California’s “in the bag” for Obama and so we should devote our energies to the “Red Counties, Red States” strategy, helping Obama and whomever his running mate turns out to be take Nevada and New Mexico and Colorado, and Democratic candidates win in traditionally Republican districts of California’s hinterlands.

So we had a question on our hands—several, really—and an audience for our LA Progressive that has shown that it likes to respond to our surveys by the hundreds. But we also knew that it’s not easy to discuss bias in America—racial, gender, or sexual—and that to do so invites strong reactions. And, indeed, as Sharon points out, several of you reacted strongly, either asking to be dropped from our mailing list, chiding us for the way we worded our questions, or even questioning our motives.

But the vast majority of you understood that we do have legitimate questions here. In California’s primaries, Latinos and Asian-Americans voted overwhelmingly for Obama’s opponents, and women Democrats around the country came out in increasingly large numbers for Hillary Clinton as did Appalachian working-class whites as the primary season drew to a close.

That’s not to say that any of these groups or voting blocs voted all voted one way, or voted against Barack Obama, exactly, or will not line up for the Democratic presidential ticket in overwhelming numbers. But it is true that unless Obama draws Latinos, Asian-Americans, Democratic women, and working class whites in significant numbers, the more skeptical of us will have been proven right, which will please neither of us. So, rather than dance around the issues or mince our words, we decided to ask our questions unvarnished.

What Are Obama’s Chances?
We polled LA Progressive readers through an email message and also on our Facebook page: 255 responded to the email invitation and 48 to the Facebook request for a total of 303 responses.

To view the results directly, please go here.

Standard received wisdom says that the Obama campaign needs to do better, and often much better, against John McCain than it did against Hillary Clinton with the four groups we addressed in our survey: Latinos and white women, especially, and then Asian-Americans and working-class whites.

Our respondents felt that 65% of Latinos and women would vote for Obama either enthusiastically or moderately. They also felt that 1.6% of Latinos and a slightly larger 5.7% of women would stay home. Those percentages fell to 55% among Asian-Americans and 47% among blue collar, working class whites.

Comments from survey respondents supported the notion that Obama was much less well known during the early California primary and so will fare much better among Latinos, Asian-Americans, and women now that he is the Democrat’s nominee and has received extensive coverage. Another strong thread indicated that his choice of vice president—especially if it’s Bill Richardson on the one hand or Hillary Clinton on the other—will make a big difference in his chances.

A number of respondents pointed to an age differential among Asian-Americans, with the older group tending to be more conservative and Republican and the younger being more likely to support Obama, especially the better educated among them.

Respondents had the most worrisome comments regarding what the media has called “blue collar, less educated whites.” Several of you made a distinction between Appalachian whites—West Virginia, eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania, for example—and blue collar whites elsewhere. Many of you did express concern that the former group might be susceptible to the kind of race-baiting campaigning certain Republican operatives have perfected over the decades and would be the most likely to vote against their own interests.

dick-price.gifWill Gay-Bashing Work Again?
Although the great majority felt that the motivation behind the anti-gay marriage initiative is to drive the Religious Right to the polls and thereby put more votes in the Republican column, a sizable percentage felt that the issue “doesn’t have legs” anymore and that gay-bashing won’t work this time. Indeed, some see this as an opportunity to put the issue to bed here in California, which is what we hope happens, too.

– Dick Price

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Published by the LA Progressive on July 6, 2008
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About Dick Price

Dick Price is Editor of the LA Progressive. With his wife Sharon, he publishes several other print and online newsletters on political and social justice issues. He has worked in publishing as a writer, editor, and publisher for a quarter century. In earlier releases, he was a cab driver, bartender, construction worker, soldier, and farmhand, and for many years helped operate a nonprofit halfway house for homeless alcoholics and addicts. To contact him, please use the form on the Contact Us page.