While Obama is enjoying a growing lead in the polls, my students still ask me if I think that America is ready for a black President. Some of them also express concerns that the election will be stolen from Obama or that he might be assassinated if elected. While these are both legitimate worries, I will just focus on the first concern in this blog.
The question “is America ready for a black President?” can be taken as meaning many things. When people ask it now, they often seem to really be asking “will Obama win?” The answer seems to be: it is possible.
The question can also be taken as asking whether the majority of Americans are willing and able to set aside the consideration of race when voting for President. The answer to this could be yes, but Obama could still lose.
Interestingly, some people I have spoken with about this think that unless a person votes for Obama, that person must not be ready for a black man in the White House. However, this need not be the case. After all, a person could set aside consideration of race and still prefer McCain to Obama (or another non-black candidate to a black candidate). For example, a voter might believe that McCain can keep America safer than Obama or she might be pro-life and consider that a decisive issue. In this case, it is not that the person must not be ready for a black President. She just prefers McCain to Obama.
Obviously, if someone votes against Obama because he is black, then he would not be ready for a black man in the White House. As such, you would have to know why a person did not vote for Obama to know whether they were ready for black man as President or not. Naturally, this will be a hard thing to determine: few people will come out and say that they vote based on race.
One obvious way to get some insight into whether America is ready for a black President or not is to look at how the election turns out. If Obama wins, then the answer would seem to be yes. If Obama does not win, then things are far less clear. The explanation for such a hypothetical loss could be race or perhaps not.
Since people are unlikely to admit to racism, one method that can be employed if Obama loses is to compare the election results with the poll results. If the poll results indicated a commanding lead and then Obama does not win, then one explantion could be the Bradley Effect: Some voters say (in polls and surveys) they will vote for the black candidate, but cannot overcome their views of race and actually vote against him/her. If this is how it turns out, then this would indicate that America seemed to be ready for a black President but was not. Of course, this would be a fairly weakly supported conclusion. White candidates running against white candidates sometimes poll well and then lose the actual election (like Kerry) and that obviously cannot be attributed to racism. The same factors that lead to such situations for white candidates could occur for a black candidate and race need not be a factor at all.
So, if Obama wins, the answer to the question would be a clear “yes.” If he does not win, then the answer is less clear. Perhaps America is ready for a black President, but perhaps not enough people want that black President to be Obama.