A Pew Research Center poll conducted in June 2008 found 30 percent of whites and 34 percent of blacks to have "at least some feelings of racial prejudice" in response to "an honest self assessment." A month earlier, a USA Today/Gallup poll reported 42 percent of all adults believed that "relations between blacks and whites will always be a problem for the United States."
Earlier this year, a CNN poll discovered that 13 percent of whites considered themselves to be racially prejudiced; however, most telling, 43 percent of all whites said they knew someone they considered to be racist.
A CBS/New York Times poll in July 2008 found that 26 percent of white people believe they have been victims of discrimination, 27 percent believe too much has been made of African-American problems, 24 percent said they would not vote for a black candidate, and 14 percent believed a black candidate would favor blacks over whites if elected.
A majority of white Americans may have overcome overt racism, but it can still have an effect in more subtle, indirect ways, such as the voting booth. The difference between what voters tell pollsters and how they actually vote in races involving black and white candidates has become known as the "Bradley effect," or less commonly as the "Wilder effect."
Tom Bradley, a very popular African-American mayor of Los Angeles lost the 1982 election for governor in California to his white opponent despite a substantial lead in the opinion polls, and African-American candidate Douglas Wilder barely won the Virginia governorship in 1989 after leading his white opponent in the polls by nine points on election day.
Obama may have suffered the Bradley effect in the New Hampshire primary where he was unexpectedly defeated by Hillary Clinton. Going into the primary, Zogby and other polls had Obama ahead of Clinton by 42 to 29 percent. When the votes were counted, she won with 39 percent of the votes to his 36 percent. Results such as this can make a decisive difference in the Electoral College swing states.
The Bradley effect among white voters may be only slightly compensated by the 90 percent of black voters who are supporting Obama. These voters are already the most loyal Democratic voting bloc, with 88 percent having voted for Kerry and 90 percent for Gore.
By the same token, an increase in the African-American voters’ turnout in the primaries was matched by increased voter response across the board. Overall, black voters accounted for 19 percent of all Democratic voters in the primaries, which is about average for past elections.
Subtle appeals to the racist inclinations of white voters have already been unleashed against Obama in his run for the presidency. Hillary Clinton accused him of being an "elitist" who is "out of touch" with "hardworking" (white) Americans, and Bill Clinton compared Obama’s primary victories to those of Jesse Jackson during the primary campaign in South Carolina.
During the final phase of the primary campaign, Clinton skillfully pushed the buttons of low-income white workers who are more apt to blame illegal immigrants and blacks for their loss of jobs and the decline of their living standards. She won the Pennsylvania primary by ten points; one in six white voters said that race was a factor in his or her decision and 75 percent of them voted for Clinton.
The Republicans have now taken up the cudgel. During their convention, Sarah Palin made fun of Obama’s work as a community "organizer" in her acceptance speech, and a prominent southern congressman referred to Barack and Michelle Obama as "uppity." Another Republican congressman had earlier used similar "Jim Crow" language to criticize Obama’s readiness to handle nuclear responsibility, "I’m going to tell you something: That boy’s finger does not need to be on the button."
Even before the Republican convention, McCain ran a television advertisement ridiculing Obama as a celebrity by comparing him with Brittany Spears and Paris Hilton, two white blonds. One doesn’t need a degree in psychology to see the ad was of the "Willie Horton" genre designed to incite white racial fears about black men and white women.
McCain, the great deregulator, has recently started using the words "change" and "regulation" in his speeches in response to the economic collapse of the financial markets. In addition to saying he would appoint a commission to study the crisis; McCain just aired a television attack ad superimposing photographs of Obama and Frank Raines, the African-American former chairman of Fannie Mae, followed by the image of an elderly white woman.
The ad lied in saying that Raines had advised the Obama campaign on housing and mortgage issues; Raines has never had anything to do with the Obama campaign. The use of Raines’ photograph and that of a vulnerable elderly white woman is a thinly-disguised attempt to excite racial fears among whites, particularly in a subgroup more inclined to vote for a Republican candidate.
Obama has been reluctant to respond to the race baiting. He’s not an unintelligent man, and he has likely weighed the decision and wants to avoid being labeled as an "angry black man" by the media if he responds to the provocations. Obama did say he did not "think that John McCain’s campaign was being racist." He added, "I think they were cynical and I think they want to distract from talking about the real issues."
Earlier in the campaign, Obama said: "We know what kind of campaign they’re going to run. ... They’re going to try to make you afraid of me. He’s young and inexperienced and he’s got a funny name. And did I mention he’s black?"