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Obama or Clinton? White men will decide

By Carey Roberts
web posted March 17, 2008

As Barack Obama relishes his recent primary victories in Wyoming and Mississippi, let’s probe the dynamics of race and gender in this increasingly-bitter Democratic race.

Just a few months ago Hillary Clinton was a shoe-in for the Democratic presidential nomination. Now amazingly, the latest Gallup poll shows Barack Obama leading by five points.

So what prompted the turn-around? Let’s examine the Democratic primaries and caucuses where exit polling was done. Of these 29 contests, Clinton won 14 and Obama prevailed in 15.

The American electorate consists of four major voting blocks: white females, white males, blacks, and hispanics. In most Democratic primaries, white females outnumber white males by about 50%. In the South, blacks represent a sizable proportion of the electorate, while in California and the Southwest, Hispanics are a force to be reckoned with.

For white women, blacks, and Hispanics, their vote in the Democratic primaries and caucuses has been unsurprising:

- White women: This electoral group has lined up predictably behind Mrs. Clinton. The only states where Clinton lost the white female vote were Illinois, Iowa, New Mexico, and Vermont.

- Blacks: African-Americans have voted overwhelmingly in favor of Obama.

- Hispanics: About two-thirds of Hispanics have tipped their hat to Clinton, with telling effects on the races in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas.

So while the votes of white women, blacks, and Hispanics have been predictable, white men have been anything other than humdrum.

In 14 states -- Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Tennessee -- the white male vote went for Mrs. Clinton.

By contrast in 13 states – California, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Vermont – white men pulled the lever in favor of Mr. Obama. In Texas and Delaware they split evenly between the two candidates.

Now look at the results. When Hillary captured the white male vote, she won 9 out of 14 contests. But when the guys favored Obama, he triumphed in 9 of the 15 races. If that’s not throwing an election, I don’t know what is.

For example in Utah, Obama cornered 64% of the white male vote. In Vermont, male voters turned out in droves to support Obama by a 29-point edge. Obama easily won both of those primary battles.

In three states -- Connecticut, Georgia, and Maryland – white males joined forces with Blacks to put Obama over the top. In Connecticut, Virginia, and Wisconsin, Obama overpowered Clinton’s female advantage thanks to his strong showing among white males.

By contrast, the white female vote did not determine the outcome in any of the Obama victories. As ABC pollster Gary Langer concludes, “in states with significant but not vast numbers of black voters, and few Hispanics, white men are critical.” Despite their smaller numbers, Democratic white males, who are supporting Obama by a 60-40% margin, have emerged as the critical swing group.

So is men’s support of Barack Obama the latest example of incorrigible sexism, the dreaded patriarchy again conspiring to keep women down?

Here’s the surprising answer: Among white females, 35% say the sex of the candidate plays a major role, and these women voted for Clinton by an overwhelming 78-17% margin, according to ABC. In comparison, only 17% of white males say the candidate’s sex is important. And get this – those men also favored Clinton 54 to 35%.

So sexism clearly is a factor in the 2008 Democratic primary race. For women and men alike, that bias operates strongly in favor of candidate Hillary Clinton.

Democrats have always considered the gender gap to be a knock on conservativism, proof the Republican Party is unable to attract the female vote. But this time the Dems must face up to the disparity within their own ranks.

So why have so many liberal white men turned their backs on Hillary? Polling data reveal men are less apt to believe Clinton would be the best commander-in-chief.

And men are 17 points less likely to believe Clinton would unite the country. Having been on the receiving end of Hillary’s gender put-downs, white males wonder if Hillary’s agenda is to let them out to pasture while the pantsuits run the country.

David Paul Kuhn has written in The Neglected Voter: White Men and the Democratic Dilemma, “No factor has been more instrumental in causing the Democratic decline in presidential politics than the loss of white men.” If Barack Obama ends up winning the nomination, we will add, “No factor was more responsible for the demise of Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid than her snubbing of the white male voter.” ESR

Carey Roberts is a Staff Writer for The New Media Alliance. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.

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