Dems: Who will make history?

February 6, 2008 7:07:02 PM PST
Though insisting race and gender have little to do with it, many Democrats are supporting the presidential candidate who looks most like them. Super Tuesday polls showed clear racial and sexual divisions between backers of the two candidates hoping for historic firsts: Hillary Rodham Clinton, seeking to become the first female president, and Barack Obama, trying to become the first black commander in chief.

Each campaign is working hard to lure the other's supporters. So far, Obama seems to have outdone Clinton, making progress among whites and women since this year's earlier contests, according to polls of people leaving voting booths in this week's primaries.

That still leaves the two rivals with supporters who look different from each other. Two-thirds of Clinton's supporters on Tuesday were white and nearly as many were female, compared with just slightly over half for Obama. That's an advantage for Clinton because whites and women dominate Democratic voting - 61 percent of the party's Super Tuesday voters were white, and 57 percent were female, the exit polls showed.

Seven in 10 Democrats said they'd be happy if Clinton were the nominee, and a virtually identical portion said the same about Obama. But as the party faithful mulled whether they'd most like to make history by putting the first woman or the first black man in the White House, some said they felt pressure to conform.

Nicole Brown, a homemaker from McDonough, Ga., said she supported Clinton, a New York senator, because she has more confidence in Clinton's abilities and track record. She said sex and race were not factors in her decision, but she also said she has run into resistance.

"Even in talking to my parents, they're surprised," said Brown, 31 and black. "You feel like a sense of obligation, you're letting your race down. But I'm not one to follow the masses, I follow my heart and my mind."

Three in 10 blacks said race was an important factor in choosing a candidate. About one in 10 whites said so. Most of those whites back Clinton, while blacks considering race overwhelmingly backed Obama, the Illinois senator.

Only one in five men and a quarter of women said they considered the candidates' genders. Both groups voted predominantly for Clinton.

"Most people don't care if the candidate is male or female, black or white or pink," said James Richardson, 34, a white retail worker from La Quinta, Calif., who supports Clinton. "They just want concrete issues and the country going back in a positive direction."

In the end Tuesday, 53 percent of both whites and females supported Clinton, along with a 63 percent of Hispanics, which helped tip the balance for her in states like California, New York and New Jersey.

Yet Obama and Clinton roughly split the white male vote, a group he'd had trouble wooing in contests before former Sen. John Edwards left the presidential race last week. Obama also won more than four in 10 female votes, including more than third of white females - better than he has usually done this year.

Clinton could not claim she had seriously eroded any of Obama's constituencies. He held onto eight in 10 black voters, including black women - a familiar pattern this year and a stark change from last year's polls, which showed the two candidates usually splitting the black vote.

"Who'd have ever thought a female could be in the White House, and most definitely who'd have ever thought an African American could be in the White House," said Yulonda Howe, 47, a black Obama supporter from Carson, Calif. "That's very important to me."

Three in 10 Obama voters Tuesday were black, compared with one in 20 of Clinton's. He won three of the four states where at least a quarter of the voters were black, prevailing in Alabama, Delaware and Georgia but losing Tennessee.

Blacks made up less than one in five voters nationally Tuesday.

Clinton's strength has been among lesser-educated, lower-income Democrats, while Obama has run stronger among those with college degrees and higher earnings. The pattern plays out across race and gender, with Clinton doing better among blacks and men with less education and Obama doing better among Hispanics and women with college degrees.

Yet education has not been a strong enough force to break through the divide by race.

Looking ahead to the general election, a poll in November by The Associated Press and Yahoo News showed that 40 percent of Republicans said they would be reluctant to vote for a woman and 23 percent for a black. Those results could be skewed by their knowledge that Clinton and Obama are Democrats.

The exit poll figures came from interviews with voters by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International conducted for The Associated Press and television networks. The samples came from 431 precincts across 16 states with primaries.

Included were interviews with 17,491 Democratic primary voters, for whom the margin of sampling error was plus or minus 1 percentage point. Also included was a poll conducted by telephone with 1,005 Democrats in Arizona, California and Tennessee to determine the views of early and absentee voters.


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