Over at the Baltimore Sun, Thomas F. Schaller, polisci professor at U of Maryland, has really put forth a poser. If you’re an African-American woman, do you vote for Hillary or Obama?
So he attended the DNC 2007 Winter Meeting and asked some prominent African American women the question.
“As an African-American woman, it’s an honor to have an African-American and a woman vying seriously for the presidency of the United States, and I think our time has come,” said Yvonne Atkinson Gates, DNC member and Clark County, Nev., commissioner. “For me, it’s not about their race or gender, but who is going to be the best candidate.”
This last sentiment – that neither race nor gender is an automatic qualifier – was a common refrain. But even if these politically savvy women were being coy, there were subtle differences in their replies.
I like the last bit. “No, really, you going to vote color or gender?”
And you can tell it was on their minds.
Senator Obama’s allure may be perceived as more generationally prospective, whereas the appeal of Senator Clinton – the former first lady married to the man novelist Toni Morrison once called the “first black president” – is deemed more historically retrospective. “He brings a lot to our heritage and culture, especially to our youth,” said Victoria Haynes, a 47-year-old Denver native who worked on the campaign of newly elected Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. “She brings a lot of strength as a woman who came from behind her husband to lead as a woman.”
So he brings culture & heritage, and she brings womanly strength. And what about issues? Besides the fact Obama doesn’t have any stands and Hillary is moving more towards Reagan on the scale than any true liberal? It doesn’t matter.
And it’s not just Mrs. Haynes. It’s a general perception of the electorate. It’s something I’d like to call the Game Show Perspective.
You turn on a game show, and there’s three contestants. The host asks the contestants about their backgrounds and they get the “I have a lovely wife of X years, 2.5 children, and I love to bowl” answer from all three. As a participant in the audience, for whom do you root? You latch on to one characteristic on one candidate that you think is better and go with that candidate. It’s about a first impression.
Contestant 1 is the only man there, so the inner chauvinist says “pull for him!”
Contestant 2 has my name, so I’ll vote for her.
Contestant 3 is black, so the black audience member roots for her.
When we are picking our local officials, or even our US Representatives or US Senators, we don’t know much about them other than Democrat or Republican, and if we identify with a particular party, we’ll choose that candidate. It’s easy, right? But what about the primary elections? Who do you choose? And why? Unless you are a truly entrenched in the political process, you don’t know much about who’s running, other than the TV commercials that bombard you as you watch “Deal or No Deal”. Those aren’t issues. Instead the ads are about “scandal”, or “I’m a good Christian man”, or “check out my haircut”. In 30 seconds there’s no time to tell you, in detail, about how you’re going to fix social security. In fact, there’s not much time to discuss it during televised debates! So, unless you are a entrenched observer, you are left with initial impressions based upon meaningless rhetoric in a 30 second TV ad and the Game Show Perception– whom do I support and why?
I’m sure the participants at the DNC 2007 Winter Conference know all about where everyone (except Obama) stands on the issues. But as for those who are going to get bussed in for the primary elections? Are they going to pick Kucinich or Obama? Hillary or Vilsack?
They’ll be voting with initial perceptions and perceived bias, not on issues.
And I can’t understand how we ended up with a Bush or a Clinton in the White House for the past 20 years.