Ky. poll shows Obama still must deal with race, Rev. Wright

Lexington Herald-LeaderMay 10, 2008 

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama's race and inflammatory racial remarks made by his former preacher negatively affect how likely voters view the candidate, according to a new poll in Kentucky.

More than one in five likely Democratic voters surveyed said being black hurts Obama's chances of winning an election in Kentucky, compared to 4 percent who said Obama's race helps him.

More than half of respondents said Obama's race isn't a factor in the upcoming May 20 primary. But many still said the racially charged remarks by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright will play an important role as they decide whom to support.

Among white voters, Wright's statements were important to 46 percent, compared to only 11 percent of black voters.

"Race is still the elephant in the room, and the Rev. Wright issue hits at remaining racial prejudices and fears that people here might have," said Saundra Ardrey, head of the political science department at Western Kentucky University.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's gender is not a major factor for those surveyed. Eleven percent saw Clinton's gender as a positive, which was only slightly less than the 14 percent who viewed it as a negative. Clinton's gender didn't matter to 63 percent of those polled.

The telephone survey of 500 likely Democratic voters was conducted from May 7 through May 9 by Research 2000 of Olney, Md., for the Lexignton Herald-Leader and WKYT television. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Kentucky's population is only 8 percent African-American. No black candidate has ever been elected to statewide office.

"I'll be very blunt," said pollster Del Ali, president of Research 2000. "Even if there wasn't a Rev. Wright controversy, I think Obama would have a tough time in Kentucky, for obvious reasons."

The fact that 56 percent of interviewed voters said Obama's race was not important could be due to something called the Bradley effect, Ardrey said. In 1982, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, who was black, was predicted to win the governor's race by a comfortable margin but lost.

"It's not socially acceptable to say things about race and gender, but in the secrecy of the voting booth, they come out," Ardrey said. "That's why polls are not accurate when it comes to true feelings on race and gender, especially race."

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