Misreading the Presidential Primary Polls: Because Barack Isn’t Black or White, Stupid!

Barack Obama is the product of a black African father and a white American mother. But, you would not know it from media coverage, university lectures, polling data, religious sermons, and your neighbors’ voting behavior. Americans love to simplify their world so mixed race people are difficult to categorize given our black-white mentality. But racial identity is no longer a simple matter. The ways in which Americans collude in ignoring Barack Obama’s race demonstrate that while the demographics of our society have changed, our ability to think inclusively remains under-evolved. It is very difficult to talk about race in American society as a result.
Interracial marriages have tripled in the United States since 1970, which constitutes about 400,000 marriages per year today, according to the Richmond Free Press. This represents a dramatic increase in the number of Americans with more than one racial identity. Their off springs are challenging racial categories. For instance, in at least 10 states, the percentage of multiracial Americans between ages 5 and 17 is at least 25%, according to 2000 census data, which is greater than the overall 19% for this age range. It is old news that America is demographically changing, yet we fail to recognize that we need new language to talk about our differences. Instead, we will continue to play the “race card” in talk about our differences.
Consider Hillary Clinton’s recent controversial comment about race in the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries:

“I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on. The Associated Press found how Senator Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me. There’s a pattern emerging here”.

At least one African American politician characterized her comments as divisive. Conservative political news commentator Patrick Buchanan came to Hillary’s defense. He says that there is a double standard when it comes to talk about race. Basically, Buchanan argues that when white Americans talk about black people, their words are scrutinized more than when a black person make statements about white people. He believes that when someone describes “facts” about racial differences, such as reported racial differences in poll results, it is absurd to claim racial animus. He is correct. There is an absurd double standard. The culprit, however, is our out-dated thinking about race, identity, and what it means to be American. Politicians need to understand that ignoring that Obama is bi-racial can lead to accusations of race baiting and racial animus.
Consider Indiana and North Carolina voting patterns in the primaries across racial groups as examples. Indiana is 88% white American, 9% African America, and 5% Hispanic. In North Carolina, African Americans, white Americans, Latino Americans, and Asian Americans constitute 21.7%, 74%, 6.7%, and 2% respectfully. Clinton won by 2% of the vote in Indiana. Indiana exit polls showed that Clinton got the majority of votes from white Americans, as she had in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Obama received more than 90 percent of the African-American vote and about 40 percent of white votes in North Carolina. The question becomes how much impact does Obama’s bi-racial identity have on the results. We will never know the answer to the question until pollsters ask it.

Pollsters want to know if race plays a role in voting, but they collude in racial politics by not asking if Obama’s mixed race has any impact on voting outcomes. If Barack is half white, then a considerable number of white Americans should be comfortable voting for that part of him they identify with. Using the same logic, many blacks should vote for him as well. The point is that mixed race candidates pose special challenges in making sense out of poll data. Coverage that ignores the fact that Obama is both black and white undermines the democratic process. West Virginia is 94.9% populated by white Americans. Hillary Clinton will likely win that state by a large percent, but she will not receive 100% of the vote. We deserve to know how the white Americans voting for Obama view him along racial lines.

Research supports this view. It turns out that when an African American shares many traits stereotypical of white people (e.g., “intelligent”, successful, “articulate”, and bi-racial), white Americans have a difficult time categorizing the person along racial lines. They tend to create a special category for the individual so as to maintain the integrity of their black-white racial distinctions. This is referred to as subtyping. So even if white Americans ignore Obama’s bi-racial background, they will sub-type him because he does not fit their stereotypes of black people. In my experience, African Americans also make faulty assumptions about Barack. Their experience in American society leads to over-emphasis on his skin color. He is African American whether he likes it or not from their point of view. A common justification is that he has been forced to identify as black in American society because it is so race conscious.  The result is that Barack’s bi-racial identity is both an asset and a stigma for him at the same time.

American beliefs about race remain out-dated in the face of a multi-cultural, multi-racial reality. How do we get out of it? We need to recognize, embrace, and celebrate our achievements in blurring the racial boundaries. This is the way we help Americans get out of the crazy, unproductive identity politics.


  1. Everyone needs to just stop looking at the situation as a racial situation. Barack Obama is running for president, Its not about hos skin color it’s about his qualities and his experience.

  2. michelle Tan says:

    growing up as a bi-racial child it was very hard for me to fit in. I never fit in with either or of the race I have in me. like what you were saying, I am a sub-type. I can feel how frustrating it must be for the president who wants change but people are still focused on just his skin color. Unfortunately people will be people, and it is very hard to change.


  3. Obama is a talented leader with lots of character. Everyone see color first and judges right away. Thats why the younger generation is with him, because we (some of us) have blinders on to color, and look more at the true issues. Obama better be on his toes because everyone is going to point out every little thing he does that may seem wrong.

  4. Barrack Obama as they said is neither black or white. I believe that Barrack is a good leader and should be seen for how he presents our country. Many people i believe have chose this president just because of his skin color. Im sure Barrack would not of wanted to be elected because of that. He has good stand points and issuesm to talk about in the years to come and i wish everyone would overcome the bi racial issue and see him for who he is!

  5. I think that the media makes such a big deal about diversity with Obama and the focus should be more on what he is going to do to help our country. It is sad that we see a ‘black man’ as our president before we see the things that is proposing to do as president. I think that he has a great attitude and that he wants to help his country be better, so why do they make such a big deal about him not being white? I dont get it. I also dont get why some people voted for him just because he is black and not on the issues that he stands for.

  6. Obama is bi racial and wether people want to admit it or not its the truth and they need to stop judging him for it becuase its what makes him who he is now, a great leader and a great president, therefore no judgments should made passed him by his race. people need to stop being so close-minded

  7. I think that half of the people voted for him because they were voting for an african american, instead of seeing him as he really is, biracial. I think that the media doesn’t make jokes or point out his faults as they would a white president for fear of being seen as prejudice.

  8. i think this country is completely off their rocker. worrying about the color of a man when there is so much more to worry about. everyperson on this planet put their pants on the same way. i have alittle daughter that is interacial and i am really worried how is going to be viewed in this pathetic world.

  9. Everone things they voted for a black president but in reality they were voting for a biracial president.

  10. Our focus with President Obama should not be what race he is. Instead we should focus on what he represents for our country and what he has and will be doing to better our country.Why is it that no one cared what race any other of our past presidents race was but now that Obama is the president that seems to be so many peoples main concern. It’s funny how people tend to forget that Obama’s mother is a white woman,yet he takes credit for being the first black president.He is just the president in my eyes, with a good intenetion to make this country a better place,I could care less what race he is.

  11. I think Obama is turning out to be a great leader. It shouldn’t matter the color of his skin, but he is going to get the job done. Many has chosen to go with him because of his race, but that should not have been the primary reason. Does he stand for you same issues? Is he planning to help better our country? As long as the person is represnting who you stand for, vote for them. It shouldn’t be because of their race.

  12. David Martinez says:

    I agree with the statement that “our ability to think inclusively remains under-evolved.”
    America as we all know is diversely evolving faster than most of us can blink. The American way of processing information needs to evolve just as fast. How can anyone make educated decisions based on color or race? Does either factor secure a position or fate in life? When do accomplishments, processes, and achievements define a person?
    I think Americans have an under evolved way of thinking because they are not willing to ask these questions of themselves. We as a people need to begin to challenge what we are being told by what we want to say. Wheather it be who the president of the United States is or who you select for city mayor, educated decisions need to be based on achievement and education, not color, heritage or media opinion.

  13. David Martinez says:

    Hope my opinions can be viewed with an open mind.

  14. I agree that this presidency should be based on what is done for our country and not just the color of our president’s skin, however I also believe that it is important that it be known that he is biracial. Not that this will affect the type of president he is, or how well he does in office, but it may be easier for narrow-minded people to accept him as president. Maybe the fact that President Obama is multiracial will make the white people say, “He’s one of us”, rather than, “Oh…he’s just a black guy on a power trip”. Maybe the fact that he is biracial will help slim down the tension for him, and people will finally be able to judge his performance on the jobs he does. Being President is stressful enough without having to be judged for being the first black president.

  15. I agree with the article that Barack’s biracial background serves both as an asset and stigma to him. When Barack won the presidential election, many blacks were overjoyed. Even African countries followed the presidential election because they saw hope for blacks in Barack’s victory. Not only does Barack have to fight off the stigma of being black, he also has the enormous burden of representing all blacks around the world. Blacks think they have something to prove to society and want Barack to be their spokeperson in achieving that goal. I don’t know about anyone else, but I think that is a huge responsbility and very high expectation!
    I think all countries should look past race as a barrier and instead acknowledge we’re all different, but we’re all human beings on this earth trying to survive. Race divides us even when as people, we are so alike in many ways. Although some of these similiarities are never discovered because race has been embedded in our heads since we were babies.
    In conclusion, Americans need to look past Barack’s race and focus on what he’s trying to accomplish for our country. Many Americans share the same viewpoints as him so we should support what he’s trying to do instead of criticizing his every move as it relates to race.

  16. I am probably a very late replier and given the reason of a doubt that an opinion is limitless, I would like to stat that, the Media only sink in information due to the fact of it is just pure business. I hate the media towards their lies and deception they place on screen for viewers to see and listen, which more then half the people who do watch the news do really listen to the news and believe in it. I understand that is it not fair to attack someone because of different diversity backgrounds a person has are interested in the media, so it is like a mosquito sucking as much blood as it can before it repeats it’s process the next time. Yes the media took a strong and very hated sign to American’s that because he is a “black man” he should not be a president due to white people are more “Superior.” They do not say that, they go around that sort of talk by slithering around with words they just pick up in the dictionary and place it on paper for the newscaster to read to sound intelligent and not racist. Which we know of course they are basically just saying it. I do not approve of any of what the media does but is anyone doing something about it? No.

  17. Christina L says:

    it is simply regretful that Obama’s obvious dark skin can be ignored. We elected a bi-racial president so why should these issues still exist? If we elected a woman to be president, would the world lash out at all women? Hilary Clinton should probably thank President Obama for that! Though race issues will not go away for a long time, the nation that has a black president should probably promote anti-racism. I can’t agree that Obama’s lack of right direction would help him at all. People are pointing fingers for someone to blame, to take the fault. If Obama was 100% white, perhaps he’d get away with it easier. Perhaps…

  18. Jwalters says:

    I think this stereotype thing need to stop. It should not matter the color of your skin for you to be able to do something positive with your life that reflects back on the community and yourself. I think Barack Obama’s is doing a hell of a good job being the president of these 50th states. So who ever dont like it they just need to deal with it.

  19. I wounder why one has to assume that americans of any race are colluding to ignor president Obama’s race. Personaly when I see him I see the man and see the the things he stands for and wants to do. I dont see a color nor do I think of color nor do I care the color, I only care the man. I think in this day and age there are many others who see the same things I do and wounder when others will realize this also..

  20. Barrack Obama as they said is neither black or white. I believe that Barrack is a good leader and should be seen for how he presents our country. Many people i believe have chose this president just because of his skin color. Im sure Barrack would not of wanted to be elected because of that. He has good stand points and issuesm to talk about in the years to come and i wish everyone would overcome the bi racial issue and see him for who he is!

  21. Stephanie says:

    When did the voting process become so heated about what our president should look like or be like? It’s a new day and age and we should be glad that we still have all of our rights and privileges and we should just choose the president who will focus on our social and economic issues.  

  22. I believe when it comes to voting for a candidate regardless of whether it is for President or not if you are voting based on the race of the person you should not be voting. I would not vote for someone just because I liked the color of their skin, it would be because I liked what they had to offer and whether or not they would be a good leader. I do not dislike what Obama stands for because he is biracial, that ignorant. People use that as an excuse for people not liking for him and not voting for him. I do think the media watches their comments and such more closely just because he is biracial but if he wasn’t then it would be okay?

  23. Greg Johnson says:

    Research supports this view. It turns out that when an African American shares many traits stereotypical of white people (e.g., “intelligent”, successful, “articulate”, and bi-racial), white Americans have a difficult time categorizing the person along racial lines.

    I disagree that Obama’s race greatly impacted voting decisions in the 2008 election. in undeniable that the vast majority of African-Americans voted for Obama in 2008, however a similar percentage of African-Americans voted for John Kerry in 2004, which suggests black people tend to align themselves with the Democratic party more so than simply voting for Obama because he is black.

    I also disagree that stereotypical traits for white people are “intelligent, successful, and articulate.”

  24. I dont think anyone should focus on Obamas color. He got the presidental spot because people liked his ideas. I feel that him being darker skinned might of had an impact on some peoples wanting or not wanting to vote for him, but in a reverse effect then back during racial times. I think that Obamas color made more people want him to be our next president.

  25. It is human to judge someone based on the appearance and what the media tells you. It is hard to see past the race, culture, and ethnicity. Regardless of Barack Obama’s status he is American and he is trying to better our country. He is a man of intelligence and should not be looked down upon in this way. Being a student I have dealt with diversity at its finest and we live in a “melting pot” together with many different kinds of people. Barack Obama regardless of his color should not be voted for or against for this. Not only voting for the president of this nation but also for any other political office should be thought of deeply. We as American’s should want the best for our country at this time and to get out of this downward depression and prosper. Generations now and generations to come need to have the same opportunities and have even more opportunities then we do. So we need to all work together and put all of the unnecessary judgments behind and focus on the platform. Better yet, we need to focus on the necessities the occupants of this nation need as well as the ones that are to come. He is our President whether we think that he is the best for job or if he is just in office to prove a point. It was a decision by all and this is what goes down in history. Just remember that we wouldn’t have all the freedoms if it wasn’t for the men that have served before him and him and after. So choose wisely, respect the outcome, and be proud to be an AMERICAN.

  26. Lindsay Smith says:

    I think that Obama’s win had a lot more to do with his race than people think…

    An article states:
    “Using exit-poll numbers, Stephen Ansolabehere and Charles Stewart III build an argument that “Obama won because of race — because of his particular appeal among black voters, because of the changing political allegiances of Hispanics, and because he did not provoke a backlash among white voters.”

    Crucial to their argument is that Obama barely gained among white voters compared to Sen. John Kerry in 2004; Obama won 43% of white votes, compared to 41% for Kerry. That slight gain didn’t tilt the election to Obama; instead it took blacks’ and Latinos’ rising share of the electorate, coupled with Obama’s big win among both groups — far bigger than Kerry’s. (Obama won 95% of black votes and 67% of Latino votes, compared to 88% and 53%, respectively, for Kerry.)”


  27. Does it really matters whether the President is white or black, as long as the US best interest is first priority.

  28. I really think people need to stop with the race stuff. The race doesnt matter. as long as Obama is going to or doing what he needs to do as president. who cares what race he is… if he was latino and was a good president i would be like “ok, yay for our president”. I think Barrack Obama is a good president. there was somethings he had to learn, but your not going to go in and know everything. But anyway, this race stuff has got to end people.

  29. I think people put to much emphasis on race. It should not be based off
    what color you,what religion or what your name is that should win you the presidantial race, in my opinion people need to look at the big picture. Which is simply who is best qualified to complete the job at hand and the candidate who is ready to gauge the playing field and take on the tasks at hand. Also instead of always looking at the racial or religous views of the candidate why not base your decison off of what issues each candidate presents and what issues they are going to try and solve and engage in. Sometimes i feel like people get to caught up in this racial or religious or even political battle of what you think the president should and should be instead of simply choosing the candidate who you think is the best man/women for the job to make our country a better place

  30. This is so unethical of people to think like this

  31. Why does it matter what color our president is? Why cant it just be about who does the best they can for our country? Isnt that whats most important? Does the color of someones skin make them a better person? I dont think so!

  32. Honestly, who cares if Obama is black or white or purple? So much emphasis has been put on his ethnicity, but it’s really the qualities of the individual that count most, right?

    And in this case, this individual named Barack Obama is a great leader: the chaos in the financial and health care sectors are being reigned in, the economy is rebounding after terrible mismanagement, and Osama bin Laden is dead!

  33. He’s a great president. Who cares about his racial background or anything else personal, for that matter.

  34. Alexandria Muse says:

    He has proven to be a great president so far. It does not matter what the race of our president is. Yes he is the first black president. that doesnt mean he can’t run a successful country. I believe it is the person that is inside what takes to truly run USA.

  35. Sometimes I wonder if the reason they don’t bring up race is not because they are scared, but because they do not want to offend anyone or be rude since they are politicians and everyone finds out about everything they say. I might be wrong it is just a thought. I also do agree with the sub-typing, I do believe when someone of a different race is intelligent and bright, people try to subtype them because they do not fit into the original view of their race.

  36. Taymoor Pilehvar says:

    I believe that his race, although an extraneous issue to begin with, should have been a non-issue from the time that he won the 2008 election. America has taken a great leap in cultural acceptance, and now we should judge presidents based on policy and qualifications only.

  37. Victor S says:

    I think that most people that voted for him , were voting because he was an African American descent. Most votes are made from what is said not what has actually been done. I believe the news and other tab-lodes cant make him look bad because Obama’s followers would not take that as attacking him as a person but attacking him because of his color and race.

  38. pluswun says:

    Just becuase someone is s particular ethnicity means nothing as to their potential in a leadership role. Their political party shouldn’t matter either. Whatever needs to be done to do good for the people, is what needs to be done.

  39. Ranotta says:

    I think Barack is a great president no matter the color of his skin. I’m glad he’s considered black because he and his family are great examples of a well educated and beautiful black family. I believe him being president has proven the struggle for the black race has not been discarded. It would be nice if every person never saw race but in the real world sometimes we do make the mistake of seeing eachother’s race.

  40. Michael says:

    As much as people don’t like it, race still plays a role in the decisions people make, be it unconsciously or consciously. It is unfortunate that for some, this plays a much larger role in their decisions than it should. I am half Mexican, and whenever I see someone with a Latino background I can’t help but notice them and give them a little preferential treatment, because I identify with them. We have not solved this problem, nor do I think it is possible to completely fix the issue. However, We can make progress in the right direction, and should strive too.

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