Ever since his intention to run for president became clear, Barack Obama has faced questions about the role race would play in voters' decisions. After contests in nearly every state in the country, the Democratic primary process has done little to the settle the matter: Obama won handily in Iowa, where 93 percent of the population is white, but lost in heavily white West Virginia, where one in five white voters said race was a factor in their decision.
A recent Newsweek survey [PDF] finds a similarly mixed picture. Obama trails John McCain among white voters in a hypothetical general election matchup, but by a smaller margin than John Kerry did to President Bush, according to exit polling after the 2004 election. (Hillary Rodham Clinton also loses white voters to McCain, but by 4 points to Obama's 12.) The polling suggests that, although race will likely be a factor for some voters, there's reason to believe it won't be a deciding one in the election.
More white voters said they had a favorable opinion of Obama than unfavorable, but by a relatively slim 4-point margin. In contrast, three in five white voters held McCain in high esteem, compared with 35 percent who said they did not. Still, it remains unclear whether this favorability gap among whites is the result of racial attitudes or merely the fact that the GOP generally attracts more white voters than the Democrats during presidential elections.
The poll also finds little evidence that race will seriously cut into Obama's support among white Democrats as a whole. Two-thirds of white Democratic voters said they had a high opinion of Obama, and nearly two-thirds said he shares their values. That's not as high as the three-quarters who said the same of Clinton on both questions, but it's enough to suggest the party base may coalesce around Obama if he wins the nomination.
Encouragingly for the Obama camp, the Illinois senator leads his Democratic rival on perceived electability, a criterion that has been especially important this primary season as Democrats seek to end eight years of Republican control of the White House. On this measure, even white Democrats favored Obama over Clinton, 45 percent to 37 percent, and he led 47 percent to 33 percent among Democratic voters overall.
But while Newsweek's poll implies that Obama could weather some voters' hesitance about voting for a black president, it can hardly be taken as a sign that prejudice and misinformation won't influence the election. Eleven percent of respondents continue to identify Obama as Muslim despite the publicity surrounding his former pastor, and 22 percent say that if Obama becomes president, his administration's policies will favor blacks. More generally, almost two in five white voters agreed with the statement that "we have gone too far in pushing equal rights in this country."
Revving Up For The Veepstakes
As if deciding who should be the next president wasn't proving to be difficult enough, it looks as though the picks for No. 2 will have to be made sooner rather than later.
National Journal's political insiders weighed in on this issue, with a plurality of Republicans -- 32 percent -- choosing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as McCain's best running mate. Other top picks included former Office of Management and Budget director Rob Portman (14 percent) and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (9 percent). GOP insiders are increasingly migrating toward Romney as McCain's VP choice, after only 11 percent chose him at the end of February. Portman is gaining in popularity as well, with a 6-point jump since then. Pawlenty's supporters, on the other hand, have decreased since February, down from 15 percent.
Where do the Democratic insiders come down on the issue? "We can't seem to make up our mind, so in classic consumer excess we should buy both," quips one insider, who is among the 17 percent picking Clinton as Obama's best VP choice. The runner-up is Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, favored by 12 percent.
The ABC News Consumer Confidence Index [PDF] sank to an all-time low this week, exceeding its previous nadir set in 1992. Falling to -51 on a -100 to 100 point scale, the CCI has plummeted 31 points this year, reflecting the toll taken on the American public by soaring gas prices and the continued housing crisis.
Nine in 10 respondents now rate the economy negatively, 30 points above the poll's long-term average. Forty-five percent say that their personal finances are in excellent or good shape, just three points above the survey's all-time low on this measure. And a record-low 19 percent say that now is a good time to make purchases. Bloomberg News reports similarly dismal results in another consumer survey and warns that the troika of sky-high gas prices, mortgage woes and rising unemployment "threatens to hobble the consumer spending that accounts for more than two-thirds of the economy."