A Cryptic Report on a Suspect Survey

One of the Democrats’ strategies in this election season is to turn the Presidential campaign into a referendum on the American people: we have to elect Barack Obama President, or else we’re racists. Many pundits, politicians and celebrities have made this claim explicitly; a new AP/Yahoo News poll advances the same theory in a pseudo-scientific way. Here is how the AP reports the results of its survey:

Deep-seated racial misgivings could cost Barack Obama the White House if the election is close, according to an AP-Yahoo News poll that found one-third of white Democrats harbor negative views toward blacks—many calling them “lazy,” “violent” or responsible for their own troubles. …

[T]he effects of whites’ racial views are apparent in the polling.

Statistical models derived from the poll suggest that Obama’s support would be as much as 6 percentage points higher if there were no white racial prejudice.

Since John McCain, if he wins, will almost certainly win the popular vote by fewer than six points, this survey will be used to cast McCain as an illegitimate President, elected only by virtue of white racism.

The attitude toward the campaign of those who conducted the survey reveals their own bias:

The pollsters set out to determine why Obama is locked in a close race with McCain even as the political landscape seems to favor Democrats. President Bush’s unpopularity, the Iraq war and a national sense of economic hard times cut against GOP candidates, as does the fact that Democratic voters outnumber Republicans.

Others would say that the question requiring investigation is why John McCain is locked in a close race with Barack Obama, when Obama has no discernible qualifications for the office and (as the survey shows) holds views well to the left of the electorate. Occam’s razor would suggest that the fact that 47 percent of respondents describe Obama as “inexperienced” accounts more readily for the tight race than the divinations of “racism” derived from the poll.

You can find what Yahoo News describes as the “full poll results” here. Only they aren’t, in fact, the full results. As made public, the poll results are broken down only by “all respondents” and “whites only.” But the AP reporters had access to data, apparently not publicly available, that break responses down among Republicans, Democrats and independents. Thus, they report:

Given a choice of several positive and negative adjectives that might describe blacks, 20 percent of all whites said the word “violent” strongly applied. Among other words, 22 percent agreed with “boastful,” 29 percent “complaining,” 13 percent “lazy” and 11 percent “irresponsible.” When asked about positive adjectives, whites were more likely to stay on the fence than give a strongly positive assessment.

Among white Democrats, one-third cited a negative adjective and, of those, 58 percent said they planned to back Obama. …

Among white independents, racial stereotyping is not uncommon. For example, while about 20 percent of independent voters called blacks “intelligent” or “smart,” more than one third latched on the adjective “complaining” and 24 percent said blacks were “violent.”

Nearly four in 10 white independents agreed that blacks would be better off if they “try harder.”

Whether those responses do or do not indicate racism, I find it interesting that the AP has data it interprets as apportioning racist attitudes among Republicans, Democrats and independents, but elects not to share it. Here is what the AP says about Republicans:

Lots of Republicans harbor prejudices, too, but the survey found they weren’t voting against Obama because of his race. Most Republicans wouldn’t vote for any Democrat for president—white, black or brown.

No data in the survey, as reported, support these statements. It’s interesting that while the AP cites statistics (albeit cryptic ones) to support the imputation of racism to Democrats and independents who don’t support Obama, it offers no such data about Republicans beyond the helpful assertion that “lots of Republicans harbor prejudices, too.” I suspect this is because this poll, like all other surveys I have seen on the subject, found that Republicans are less likely to express negative attitudes toward people of other races than Democrats and independents.

None of this, of course, will stop liberals from deriding McCain as a President elected by virtue of racism if he wins the election.

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