by Eric Martin
George Packer has a thought-provoking piece in the most recent installment of the New Yorker that deals with issues related to Obama's difficulties connecting to working-class white voters, as well as the underlying racial dynamic that is, in many ways, related. This excerpt offers an approximate summation of the thrust of Packer's article:
Gabe Kramer, the S.E.I.U.’s chief of staff in Columbus, told me, “You talk to people about the issues and the issues resonate. But what you hear people talking about on the street and on TV and radio is the other things. Is Obama like us? Does Obama share our experience of the world? Which is not the same thing as racism, but overlaps with it.” Obama, Kramer added, is “very good at talking to professionals—people who care about policy—and comes across as judicious, careful, thoughtful. But he has a harder time talking about them in a way working-class white Ohioans can relate to.”
In addition to this disconnect, of particular concern to Obama supporters is the potential for a "Bradley Effect" on election day - or lower than expected turnout driven by racial animus. Packer provides some background:
...the Bradley Effect [is] named for the black mayor of Los Angeles, Tom Bradley, who lost the California governorship in 1982 despite polls that had showed him in the lead, apparently because a small percentage of respondents would rather lie to a pollster than admit to opposing a candidate on the ground of his race.
In fact, attempts to explain the incongruity between the polls and vote counts in some of this year's Democratic primary races has given birth to Bradley 2.0:
The problem first became manifest in New Hampshire, a state that much of the media declared in advance to be the end of the road for Clinton. Two days after her victory, Andrew Kohut, of the Pew Research Center, published an Op-Ed in the Times about the failure of polls to predict the outcome. He had a theory: undetected racism among working-class whites. Clinton, he noted, beat Obama among whites with family incomes under fifty thousand dollars and also among those who hadn’t attended college. “Poorer, less well-educated white people refuse surveys more often than affluent, better-educated whites,” Kohut wrote. “Polls generally adjust their samples for this tendency. But here’s the problem: these whites who do not respond to surveys tend to have more unfavorable views of blacks than respondents who do the interviews.”
However, there are also indications that there might be an opposite Bradley reaction (Bradley 3.0) that could, even if not fully, at least somewhat counteract the effects of Bradley 1.0 and 2.0. The newest version, an anti-Bradley really, is based on the theory that in some regions, supporting a black candidate is so unpopular that residents and, at times poll respondents, conceal their prefernce for the black candidate. North Carolina Governor Mike Easley was discussing this on Rachel Maddow's show last night (he also mentioned the skew created by the fact that the polls ignore the cell phone-only population, which tends to be younger and less racist - Bradley 3.5):
"My barber tells me — and this is a guy who can … legally put a razor to your throat and ask you a question, so that’s a good focus group that he's getting all day long — he says we're going to see a reverse Bradley effect," he said. "There's a lot of people that have been saying all along they'd never vote for Barack Obama, but they’re going to go in the voting booth and they’re going to do it because it's in their economic interest."
Packer's article offers some anecdotal evidence as well:
“I don’t know anyone who’s for Obama,” said Jennice, a Democrat who supported Hillary Clinton and who won’t vote in November.
“If they are, they don’t say it, because it would be unpopular,” an elderly former teacher named Marcella said. That had not been true of Bill Clinton, Al Gore, or John Kerry, she added. [...]
As the guests drank sodas and ate pigs in a blanket in Babe Walker’s living room, Gwinn asked for volunteers to make phone calls and go door to door. There were not many takers. “Local validators are very important,” she said, with urgency. “A lot of people are secretly for Barack, but they’re afraid to go public. You know everyone in this town. So if there’s anybody out there with misinformation, you have to find them and say, ‘It’s not true. He’s not a Muslim.’ ” Seeing an Obama sign in a neighbor’s yard could make a huge difference in a place like Glouster, she said.
Speaking of "seeing an Obama sign in a neighbor's yard," this story provides hope that "local validators" are on the way:
When Barack Obama's campaign bus made a swing through Missouri in July, the unlikeliest of supporters were waiting for him -- or rather two of them, holding the banner: "Rednecks for Obama."
In backing the first African-American nominee of a major party for the US presidency, the pair are on a grassroots mission to bridge a cultural gap in the United States and help usher their preferred candidate into the White House.
Tony Viessman, 74, and Les Spencer, 60, got politically active last year when it occurred to them there must be other lower income, rural, beer-drinking, gun-loving, NASCAR race enthusiasts fed up with business as usual in Washington. [...]
"We believe in him. He's the best person for the job," Viessman, a former state trooper from Rolla, said of Obama, who met the pair briefly on that July day in Union, Missouri.
The candidate bounded off his bus and jogged back towards a roadside crowd to shake hands with the men holding the banner.
"He said 'This is incredible'," Spencer recalled. [...]
Rednecks4obama.com claims more than 800,000 online visits. In Denver, Colorado, Viessman and Spencer drew crowds at the Democratic convention, and at Washington University last Thursday they were two of the most popular senior citizens on campus. [...]
"There's lots of other rednecks for Obama too," he said. "And the ones that's not, we're trying our best to convince them." [emphasis added throughout]
Here's hoping they're right. "Righteous" they have down already.