Hillary and Obama: Is
By Darrell M. West,
Since the 1930s, the
Table 1 Voter Willingness to Support Candidates of Various Social Backgrounds
1930s 1950s 1970s 1990s
Jewish 46% - - 92%
Catholic 60% - - 94%
Female 33% - - 92%
Black - 37% - 95%
Atheist - 18% - 49%
Gay - - 26% 59%
Mormon - - 75% 79%
Table 1 reveals that in the 1930s, Americans were not very open to presidential candidates from non-white male backgrounds. At that time, only 46 percent of Americans indicated they would vote for a Jewish American, 60 percent said they would support a Catholic for president, and only 33 percent claimed they would support a woman for president.
In the 1950s, only 37 percent of Americans said they would vote for a black for president and 18 percent indicated they would support an atheist. And in the 1970s, 26 percent said they would vote for a gay for president and 75 percent indicated they would vote for a Mormon.
By the 1990s, though, these views had liberalized on most groups. The numbers saying they would vote for a Jew, Catholic, woman, or black rose to the low to mid-90s. However, only 49 percent said they would vote for an atheist, 59 percent admitted they would vote for a gay presidential candidate, and 79 percent indicated they would support a Mormon candidate.
These changes suggest
Of course, these views do not mean there is no prejudice against female and/or African-American candidates. Voters may say they are willing to vote for a woman, but refuse to do so in the privacy of the ballot box. Or they may harbor private attitudes that make them unreceptive to a candidate with an unconventional background even if in the abstract, they are willing to say that they would vote for a woman or black.
After eight years of President
George W. Bush, it is likely
This is a perfect recipe for candidates from different kinds of backgrounds to run well. In a situation of unhappiness with the status quo, voters may opt for a women, an African-American, a Latino, or a Mormon presidential candidate. This gives these candidates a much better shot than they ever have had before.
An Open Field of Candidates
Most presidential candidate fields feature white, male candidates. While there occasionally have been individuals who ran who had unconventional backgrounds, such as Shirley Chisholm (female African-American), Jesse Jackson (African-American), Pat Schroeder (female), or Carol Mosley-Braun (female African-American), the vast preponderance of American presidential candidates have been white male.
Of those women or minorities who have sought the presidency, none have been considered a top-tier candidate. Most have been poorly financed and have not featured the type of broad-based support that gave them a meaningful shot at the presidency.
In 2008, however, the front-runners for the Democratic nomination are Hillary Clinton (female) and Barack Obama (an African-American). Both are well-known and likely to be well-funded. Each has support from across the political spectrum. Both are serious contenders.
In addition, Governor Bill
Finally, Republican Mitt Romney of Massachusetts is attempting to make history on the GOP side as that party’s first presidential nominee to be Mormon. Unlike public attitudes on Jews, Catholics, women, and African-Americans, voters remain reluctant to support a Mormon candidate. Whereas 92 percent say they would vote for a Jewish candidate and 94 percent claim they would support a Catholic, only 79 percent say they are willing to cast a ballot for a Mormon presidential candidate. This lingering prejudice may handicap Romney in his contest for the Republican nomination against John McCain and Rudy Giuliani.
The Nomination Calendar
Although it appears that the 2008
presidential campaign is getting an early start, the
National versus State Polls
In an early national poll conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News, Hillary Clinton is the leader for the Democratic nomination with 41 percent of the vote, followed by Barack Obama at 17 percent, and John Edwards at 11 percent.
These numbers confirm the openness of many Americans either to a female or African-American president. The willingness of large numbers of voters to say they will support Clinton or Obama, respectively, bodes well for those individuals.
However, little stock should be placed in national surveys because the nominating process is a sequential process taking place state-by-state. There is no national nominating process in either party because each state runs its own primary or caucus.
A more meaningful indicator of early
success are the polls in early states. There, the polls indicate a more fluid
situation. For example, a Zogby poll of
On the Republican side, John McCain
is ahead of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani by 26 to 20 percent among
Things to Watch
Look for lots of volatility over the course of the next year as a big field of candidates battle for their party’s nomination. This is the first race since 1928 when there has not been a president seeking re-election or a vice-president wanting to move up.
1) The Money Primary
In the short-run, all attention will be focused on the money primary. This is the informal contest to raise cash in 2007. Leading contenders will need something between $75 and $100 million by the end of this calendar year. The need for lots of financial resources advantages candidates such as Clinton, Obama, Edwards, McCain, Giuliani, and Romney who are well-known and have demonstrated fundraising capacity.
The issue of
3) State of the Economy
Most American elections focus more
on domestic economic considerations than foreign policy. However, the last two election cycles have been contested mainly on foreign policy. Unless
However, the economy is an issue that always affects the campaign. Although the economy slowed at the end of 2006, it looks like economic growth may pick up to 3 percent in the coming year. Watch the personal income numbers, consumer spending, and the housing market as barometers of economic well-being. The stronger those numbers are, the better off Republicans will be in 2008.
4) The Gender and Race Gaps
With Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama among Democratic front-runners, pay attention to how men and women as well as whites, African-Americans, Latinos, and Asian-Americans and people from different regions view the candidates. Candidates must secure their base early in a crowded field, but also make sure they reach out to other groups different from themselves.
5) Party Prospects
Right now, Democrats are well-positioned for 2008.
Due in large part to voter discontent with