Analysis: Can You Trust What Polls Say about Obama's Electoral Prospects? Two Important Trends Suggest Americans May Now Be Ready to Elect an African American President

Source Organization: Pew Research Center


02/07/2007 - The strong showing of Democrat Barack Obama in early trial heat polls for the 2008 presidential election raises anew the question of whether the American public is ready to support an African American candidate for president. Recent polling points to two significant shifts on this question, according to the Pew Research Center.  The first is that an ever larger majority of the public indeed says that they are willing to vote for an African American for the nation's highest office. The second is that polls conducted in campaigns pitting white and black candidates against each other are doing a better job of accurately predicting the outcome of the election now than in the past, suggesting that hidden biases that confounded polling in biracial elections in the 1980s and early 1990s are no longer a serious problem.

With Obama poised to declare his candidacy for president this weekend, recent national polling finds that although he trails Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, he does nearly as well as Clinton in general election matchups against the frontrunning Republicans, narrowly leading John McCain and running roughly even with Rudy Giuliani.

More generally, the vast majority of Americans tell pollsters that they are willing to vote for a qualified African American candidate for president. In a Newsweek poll conducted last year, just 3% said they would not do so. This was not always the case. Gallup has asked a version of this question since 1958. Most recently, in 2003, 92% said they would vote for a black candidate for president while just 6% said they would not. But in 1958, a majority of 53% said they would not vote for a black candidate; even as recently as 1984, 16% told Gallup they would not do so.

Read the full report Can You Trust What Polls Say about Obama's Electoral Prospects? Two Important Trends Suggest Americans May Now Be Ready to Elect an African American President on the Pew Research Center Web site.

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