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The Race Issue In Wisconsin

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The University of Wisconsin's latest Badger Poll (conducted June 8-10 of 506 likely voters) provides an illuminating snapshot about its residents' views on race in America—or at least what they are willing to tell a pollster in a telephone interview.

The poll revealed, firstly, that the Badger State is currently leaning to Barack Obama in its vote for president, with 50 percent expressing their preference for the (African American) Senator from Illinois, and just 37 percent for (white) Senator from Arizona, John McCain.

Obama also bested McCain on a series of questions on candidate traits:

  • 74 percent of Wisconsinites believe Obama cares people about them, compared to 55 percent for McCain.
  • 63 percent believe Obama shares their values, compared to just 46 percent for McCain.
  • 70 percent believe Obama can bring about change, compared to 42 percent for McCain.

Obama also had a much higher favorability rating (64 percent) than McCain (53 percent).

From these polling questions—not dealing with race specifically, but evaluating a minority candidate against a white candidate—Badger State residents demonstrate with apparent conviction that they are ready and willing to support a black candidate for the White House. As a result, it would also appear Obama has so far put enough distance between himself, his old church, and the Pastor Jeremiah Wright controversy that nearly derailed his race for the nomination during the past three months.

The interview then asked questions dealing directly with race, and African Americans in particular. On almost all of these questions, the vast majority of Wisconsinites expressed what could be characterized as the 'politically correct' answer (whether or not correctly expressing their true views). For example:

  • By a margin of more than 3:1 (74 percent to 23 percent) Wisconsinites disagreed with the statement that America has gone too far in giving African Americans special legal rights.
  • By a margin fo 5:1 (80 percent to 16 percent), Badger State residents disagreed with the statement that African Americans tended to have less ambition.
  • By a margin of 24:1 (94 percent to 4 percent), Wisconsinites believed African Americans work hard when given a chance.

However, the poll asked one final question on race, which indirectly touches on what bothered so many Americans about the Pastor Wright controversy (and Obama's delayed reaction to it). When asked if African Americans often use race as an excuse to justify wrongdoing, Wisconsin was evenly split: 48 percent believed this was the case and 49 percent disagreed.

While the statements delivered during Pastor Wright's various sermons were offensive to most Americans, many (though not all) African American leaders, activists, and commentators reacted to the issue, and defended Obama, by dealing this 'excuse card.' White America's anger to Pastor Wright's comments were attributed by several of these leaders as a result of its "not understanding black churches." In other words, an excuse was offered for bad behavior—both Wright's anti-American comments and Obama's failure to censure those comments in a timely manner—through a racial prism.

Even assuming Wisconsinites were truthful in their reply to all other questions in the Badger poll on Obama and race, it is therefore not clear that Obama has completely put the Wright controversy (and thus the race issue) to bed. The question is if and how McCain and his surrogates will attempt to raise this issue during the general election campaign.

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