/ 23 June 2008

US splits over race relations as Obama takes the lead

As Barack Obama moves his presidential campaign into traditionally Republican states, a new poll shows that race remains a potent issue for American voters.

The Obama campaign hopes to capitalise on the candidate’s strong support among African-American voters to compete in Republican redoubts.

But the poll, conducted by the Washington Post and ABC television, found that the state of race relations in the US is polarising voters. Almost half of African-American voters described race relations as ”poor” or ”not so good”, while a similar number of white voters said that they were ”excellent” or ”good”.

A third of those polled — including both white and African-American voters — admitted to feelings of racial prejudice.

Obama is hoping to build on his strong showing among African-Americans during the Democratic primaries to carry states that normally vote Republican or at least make the Republican nominee, John McCain, devote resources to defending his vote in those states.

During the primary campaign, African-American turnout more than doubled in the 16 states with a significant black population. African-American turnout in the 2004 presidential election was 60%, making up 11% of voters. Many analysts expect turnout to rise to 70% this year.

Obama’s support among African-Americans has the potential to edge Florida, Virginia and North Carolina to the Democrats in November, assuming he maintains his strong polling numbers among independents and Hispanic voters. A Democratic presidential candidate has not taken Virginia since 1964. Obama also polls well in the key swing states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, where his 90% support among African-American voters has opened an eight-point lead over McCain.

The latest polling follows earlier surveys which showed white voters happy to elect an African-American to the presidency. Nine out of 10 white voters surveyed in last month’s Washington Post-ABC poll said they would be comfortable with a black president.

However the latest poll shows that more than half of white voters surveyed agreed that Obama would be a ”risky” choice, with 60% saying that McCain would be a ”safe” choice. Forty-three percent of white voters agreed that Obama had sufficient experience to be president.

The poll found that Obama has a six-point lead over McCain nationwide. Another poll, released by Newsweek magazine, showed Obama with a much wider margin across the nation. Attributing his strong showing to the ending of his tussle with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, Newsweek reported Obama with a 15-point lead over McCain.

The magazine also attributed what it dubbed the ”Barack bounce” to voter dissatisfaction with the current state of the nation. Just 14% of those polled said they were satisfied with the direction of the country.

The Obama campaign hopes to harness his support among African-Americans to his fundraising advantage to take his campaign into the Republican heartland. Although Obama showed a decline in his fundraising for May — his $22-million for the month was virtually matched by McCain — his decision to reject public financing of his campaign means that his budget for the rest of the year could top $300-million. McCain, who has accepted public financing, will be restricted to $84,1-million, although that total is expected to be amply supplemented by the Republican party’s National Committee.

The Obama campaign plans to use the funding advantage to run advertisements in 25 states, and to have a paid staff in every state, an unprecedented move. – guardian.co.uk