The United States made history in 2008 with the election of our first African-American president. For this to happen, Barack Obama had to win over an electoral coalition that included African-Americans as well as voters from other ethic backgrounds--including certain whites who may have not likely come out to vote for another Democrat. These same white voters may play a role in potentially defeating Barack Obama in 2012.
Race – whether rationally or irrationally contemplated – was undoubtedly a factor in the 2008 presidential election. There seems to be two main interpretations that have been made for how race affects voting for, or against Barack Obama. Both versions are domains of the left.
One interpretation assumes pure old-fashioned racism: whites will not vote for Obama because he is black. According to this view, a segment of the white voting population did not vote for Obama in 2008, and will not do so in 2012, simply because of the color of his skin. These arguments are presented with evidence showing the smaller percentage of the white vote Obama received in some Deep South states compared to white Democratic candidates before him. In Louisiana and Alabama, for example, Obama received nine or ten percent less of the white vote John Kerry took in 2004.
The other interpretation concerns itself only with black voters. African-Americans will vote for Obama also because he is black. That is, black voters will generally vote for a Democrat but they will particularly and exceptionally vote for Obama because he is black. The evidence here is found in historical comparisons. John Kerry received 88 percent of the black vote in 2004 and Al Gore took 90 percent in 2000. Obama, however, not only received 96 percent of that vote in 2008, but also boosted black turnout by two million voters nationwide compared to 2004.
Liberals see the first interpretation as outright racism while consider the second as a benign form of racial bias. In other words, and simply stated, when whites vote for a white candidate as opposed to a black candidate, they are racist. When blacks vote for a black candidate accordingly, they are merely biased toward a member of their own racial group.
If indeed it were that simple, this would be the end of the article.
There exists another percentage of white voters – arguably difficult to measure – that may have voted for Obama solely because he is black.
In the battleground states of Virginia and North Carolina, Obama’s share of the white vote improved over Kerry by seven and eight percent respectively. Nationwide, Obama took 43 percent of the white vote compared to Kerry’s 41 percent. Furthermore, the overall white turnout increased slightly from 99.6 in 2004 to 100 million in 2008 – still a significant statistics given the 1.3 percent decline in Republican turnout that year. John McCain, in fact, saw a disappointing turnout of the (mostly white) GOP base compared to George W. Bush in 2004. Like the interpretations many make that race influenced Obama's poor showing among whites in the Deep South, could his race have had a reverse affect in white support for Obama elsewhere?
The 2008 increase in the overall number of white voters, along with the disappointing GOP turnout for McCain, would suggest that a number of whites that may have otherwise stayed at home came out specifically to vote for Obama. There are many different likely reasons for why these whites decided to come out for Obama--some more rational than others.
A number of Obama's white voters may have supported him to be a part of history, others may have done so out of fear – but not ‘fear of the black man’, as liberals often assert. Rather, they voted for Obama out of fear of an inner, subconscious racism that they are alleged to hold. In 2008, they were simply and repeatedly told they would never elect a black president. Yet, they did. Since then, however, politics have turned rather unpleasant for many of these same voters, all for simply criticizing Obama’s liberal policies and performance. With historical significance not playing the same role in 2012 as 2008, the left has used race more and more in a negative way to try and sway white voters.
From the “white anger” comments of the Chris Matthewses of the liberal media, to Vice President Joe Biden’s proclamation that Republicans will put blacks “back in chains,” white voters have been continuously subjected to relentless, fear-inducing, subtle, racially-based attacks from the left. Since 2008, these attacks have attempted to inculcate in white voters an irrational sense of racist guilt – a guilt that has nothing to do with their tangible views on, or actions toward other races. In most cases, it is simple opposition to liberalism – Obama's big government and his strongest and boldest liberal push since the Great Society.
When the Tea Party swept onto the political stage in 2010 because of Obama’s policies, many on the left charged racism. Cries for fiscal discipline were quickly overshadowed by accusations that racism is what makes the Tea Party “tick.” And in many states, long sought-after Republican initiatives such as voter ID laws have been decried as a ‘poll tax’ reminiscent of the Jim Crow Era. Border security, Obamacare, tax cuts… The list goes on for suggested policy reforms made by conservatives that liberals have charged to be motivated by race.
The reasons why these racially-charged liberal attacks to Obama criticisms may sway white voters(e.g. because of past society’s discrimination of blacks) is beyond the scope of this article and judgment by this writer. The point here is that they exist and affect voting behavior through subtly instilled shame, self-reproach, and remorse.
But will white voters fall into a guilt trap this November? Over four years of racially charged bashing by the left appears to be pushing voters to finally rationalize the issue.
Short of future election results analysis and the absence of reliable polling on racism – and beyond this writer's own experience on campaign trails – the Internet is a good place to gather indicators of political attitudes about voting and race. The blogosphere is filled with refutation of the liberals' charges of racism against white voters. A simple, yet multi-word Google search “if you oppose Obama you are racist” yields an astonishing 13 million-plus results, most unequivocally opposing that statement's assertion. Simpler searches yield even higher results.
The across the board reaction to Biden's "chains" comments shows the mainstream is becoming more aware of these tactics. One also finds organized independent efforts hitting the presidential campaign arena, virtual and otherwise. For example, a satirical video, “Bob is a Racist” by a Virginia conservative video journalist, is a YouTube success.
In the American political universe there are clear signs showing that the tactics of the left to allege racism as the influence for any criticism against Barack Obama, are becoming more evident and increasingly scrutinized; and by my opinion less effective. The turnout among whites and white independents this year may show that while race was a factor in 2008, by 2012 the main issue for most is policy.
Nino Saviano, a political strategist and president of Savi Political Consulting, is the founder of BattlegroundPAC, a conservative organization with the goal of educating voters why Barack Obama's policy record should make him a one-term president.