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Voters Will Lie to Pollsters about Race

New America Media, Commentary, Earl Ofrai Hutchinson Posted: Aug 14, 2008

Editor's Note: Presidential polling can be misleading especially in light of a recent study that revealed African-American and White voters hold racial biases that may cause them to lie to pollsters.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama outwardly seems little worried that the polls could get it wrong on white attitudes toward his candidacy. But the possibility that many whites could flat out lie to pollsters when they say that they have no problem voting for an African-American presidential candidate has gnawed at Democrats and those on Team Obama from the moment that he tossed his hat in the presidential ring.

A major study by university researchers called Project Implicit measured hidden biases on everything from weight, age and religion too gender and race. They found deep and pervasive hidden bias on nearly every one of the tests among wide segments of the public. That included race and voting. The survey found that Obamas Republican rival John McCain could get more votes in the states with relatively small black populations no matter what the polls said.

This possibility makes many Democrats squirm at polls that show Obama with only a paper thin lead over McCain. When the standard polling margin of error, along with the refusal of many to answer polling questions, is considered it makes trying to get an accurate gauge of voter sentiment even more fragile and volatile. And the murkiness of hidden racial bias makes it even more problematic still.

Pollsters are doing everything they can to try and ferret out hidden bias in voting among whites. They are asking end around questions such as what are the racial attitudes of their friends and relatives. They are making cold calls and then identifying themselves by race (white). They are even directly asking respondents their race and whether they socialize with blacks.

Still some pollsters deny that race will be a factor in election poll predictions. Some political analysts say that times and public attitudes have changed; that there are more young voters, and they are more racially tolerant. Whites, they say, turn on their TVs and see legions of black newscasters and talk show hosts, topped by TV's richest and most popular, Oprah Winfrey. They see mega-rich black entertainers and athletes pampered and fawned over by a doting media and adoring public.

They see TV commercials that picture blacks living in trendy integrated suburban homes, sending their kids to integrated schools, and driving expensive cars. They see blacks such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and his successor, Condoleezza Rice in high profile, important policy-making positions in the Bush administration. They see dozens of black congresspersons, state legislators, and mayors. They see blacks heading corporations, and universities.

This supposedly has radically leveled the racial playing field, and not only make color-coded bigotry unacceptable, but mostly a thing of the by-gone past. Obviously, thats not the case.

But Project Implicit researchers also found that hidden bias cuts both ways and that many blacks lie or misrepresent their views to voters on voting. They as many whites dont want to come off sounding like racial bigots by giving the impression that they oppose McCain because hes white. Many are just as adamant that their passion for Obama is not based solely on the fact that hes black.

The truth, of course, is that many blacks back Obama based exclusively on race. The likelihood that they will flock to the polls in possible record numbers in several states excites Democrats, and many even encourage it by making subtle and not so subtle racial appeals, such as help make history, our time has come, This will be a first.

So why do many blacks fib to pollsters about race? Even though its politically tactless to revel in it, it has much to do with their legitimate sense that Obama will make history by being the first African-American in the White House. But it also has much to do with faulty assumptions.

Many blacks erroneously believe that whites live an Ozzie and Harriet life of bliss and are immune from personal and social angst. They are puzzled when middle-class whites shoot up their suburban schools, and neighborhoods, bludgeon their children in their homes, use and deal drugs, have high suicide rates and commit bizarre anti-social acts. They don't hear and see their pain.

Many blacks don't recognize that millions of whites are also trapped in a downward cycle of need and poverty, and have about as much chance of crashing into America's corporate boardrooms, joining university faculties and getting elected to Congress as poor blacks. The sense among many whites that they are fast losing economic and social ground in America Then there s the even less socially correct view that whites are conniving, brutal, dishonest, and inherently untrustworthy in dealing with minorities.

The reality is that black and white voters arent racial bigots. They like to believe that they are open minded when it comes to judging a candidate, and that they wouldnt lie about their preferences. Unfortunately, many do, and that makes making presidential predictions based on polls even shakier.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House

Related Articles:

Obamas Candidacy or No, the Racial Divide is Still Wide

Immigrant Groups Strategize for Presidential Campaign

Immigration Reform Defines Candidates' Positions

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