Asking the Question Unvarnished


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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  1. Dorothy Marshall says

    Thanks for your survey. As a eighty-five year old female, I
    still have hopes we can leave behind this racial nonsense and come together as people who want a free and just country.

    I was a Hillary supporter but now I will support our candidate!

    Thanks again for you survey. I like Eric’s comments.

  2. Chris Rowe says

    I agree with Eric that you cannot count the activists or the educated politically as indicitive of how people will vote. I have an Asian friend who has been a citizen in the U.S. for close to 30 years. She is extremely religious, and how she votes is dependent upon her interpretation of the Bible. I was horrified to hear her tell me that she was carrying the petition for the anti-gay marriage initiative.

    It is very difficult sometimes to communicate with people when English is not their first language. Sometimes people chose to use their native language in the home – they do not learn English as well. Even when people want to be citizens of the United States, as with my friend, she cannot understand that everyone deserves equal rights in our nation. And because of the language barrier, and our differences in general about these kinds of issues, I just cannot go beyond a certain level of discussion on certain topics.

    My friend, who also works the polls, told me that she voted on June 3rd, based on the recommendations that day of another poll worker. That worker based her choice on the recommendations of the “Los Angeles Times”.

    This is what we are up against.

  3. Eric C. Bauman says

    Let us be clear about one important caveat: never ask activists for their opinions if you want to know what regular voters think!

    Activists do not think like regular folks; they do not view politics, issues or the news in the same way either.

    There are certainly reasons for concern among some segments of the California electorate, and your survey appropriately indicates which groups those might be, but the polling reality at this point is that California will be blue in November.

    Even accounting for the “Dinkins” or “Bradley” factor, polling shows our state to be fairly safe. That does not mean we don’t need to work to ensure our voters turn out. We surely do.

    We have palpable weakness in parts of the Latino community, particularly those over 35 and it is similar in the APIA community. There was some softness in the LGBT community, but Obama’s statement in opposition to Prop 8 should help overcome that.

    As to those “white, working class areas,” especially in the Inland Empire, Central Valley and Rural North, these are not areas we typically carry in winning statewide. Improving our vote counts there help us drive up our margins and we should definitely work these areas hard, but they are not typically dispositive of the outcome of statewide races.

    Here is the bottom line: California WILL deliver its electoral votes to Obama, the margin is the issue. The greater we drive the turnout, the greater the likelihood we defeat the Parental Notification Initiative, the marriage initiative and a few of the other gems “our friends” have stuck on the ballot.

    Furthermore, the greater we drive turnout, especially in areas outside the Democratic core of Los Angeles and the nine Bay Area counties, the greater the likelihood we pick up congressional or legislative seats.

    And one more thing, if we keep pushing on registering and reregistering voters and signing up permanent mail voters, the likelihood we can retake the statehouse in 2010 improves exponentially.

    (written on the run, I apologize for any errors)

    Eric C. Bauman

    • dick and sharon says


      Thanks for your thoughtful — and characteristically forceful — response.

      We know that the people who read the LA Progressive are keenly interested in and active in progressive politics. You can’t really extrapolate from their views to the general populace.

      Both of us agree with your prognosis, that prospects look good for Obama and Democrats generally this fall. We’re glad you see it the way you do.

      — Dick & Sharon

  4. marie vogel says

    How come that in USA a person with mixed ancestry, lets say with halve or less African blood, always is called and treated as black? Does the part of Caucasian ancestry not count?
    If Michelle Obama comes more forward as an important and positive influence, it might winn-over more of the first pro-Hillary votes.
    The gay-rights part is too tacky. Let the Christians follow the teachings of Christ (0r what they think is the bible-teachings) and let the “free-thinkers” act according to their consciousness and accept the “possible consequences” of their choice. As long as they don’t hurt other people.
    Clearness in Safe-keeping of Social Security and openness for Healthcare-reform stays important too.

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