Earl Ofari Hutchinson
New America Media, Commentary
Posted: Feb 14, 2008
There are some strange things happening in this election -- and one of the strangest is the penchant for so many white males to join with African-American voters in backing Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama.
Are they voting for Obama because they truly buy his flowery pitch of hope, change and unity? Or perhaps there is something darker and more insidious at work here: the deep, persistent, and widespread notion among many men that a woman is not fit to hold the highest office – especially if that woman is named Hillary.
White males make up 36 percent of the American electorate – or one in three American voters. They have been the staunchest Republican backers since Ronald Reagan’s trounce of Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1980.
Without their solid support of George W. Bush in 2000, Democratic presidential contender Al Gore would have easily won the White House, and the Florida vote debacle would have been a meaningless sideshow. In 2004, Bush swept Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in every one of the states of the Old Confederacy and three out of four of the border states. He grabbed more than 60 percent of the white male vote nationally. In the South, he got more than 70 percent of their vote. That insured another Bush White House.
Male voters gave not just Bush but Republican Presidents Bush Sr., Ronald Reagan, and Richard Nixon the decisive margin of victory over their Democrat opponents. The majority of those who voted for the GOP presidents were middle- to upper-income, college educated, and lived in a suburban neighborhood. This closely parallels the demographic of the men who are voting for Obama – even though fewer than one in five white males label themselves as liberal.
The reason for the intense and unshakeable loyalty of working and middle-class men to the GOP is not hard to understand. The gap was first identified and labeled in the 1980 contest between Reagan and Carter. That year, Reagan got more than a 20 percent increase in the margin of males compared to Carter. Women voters, by contrast, split almost evenly in backing Reagan and Carter. Most men made no secret about why they liked Reagan and what they perceived that he stood for. The tough talk, his refusal to compromise on issues of war and peace fit neatly into the stereotypical, male qualities of professed courage, determination, and toughness.
Then there’s the factor that’s even less politically correct to admit – that the bias of many men toward women in high positions is so deep-seated that they refuse to believe that it is a bias.
Psychologists have testified in countless gender-bias lawsuits about the “unconscious bias” of male managers against women, especially against women attaining power positions. The refusal of men to promote women has been the biggest factor fueling gender discrimination in corporate hiring and promotions. Male managers in charge of promotion and pay decisions unwittingly engage in "spontaneous" and "automatic" stereotyping and "in-group favoritism" that results in the most desirable jobs at the company being filled by white males.
Even if unconscious, gender bias affects a small percentage of men -- and in a close contest between a male and female candidate in which the two are rated fairly evenly in competence, qualifications and experience, the refusal of many men to vote for a female could harm her candidacy. Female candidates offset the male bias by getting solid support from women voters.
The politically correct view is that Hillary Clinton’s drive for the presidency would radically alter the frozen mindset of many men that thought a woman was not equipped to hold the highest office. But that’s hardly the case.
Obama has surpassed Clinton’s vote total with white men in some of the most traditional bastions of the white male voter – voters who were resistant to backing a black candidate in elections past. Many men legitimately vote for Obama because they like his message. But many more simply don’t like Clinton, or rather the thought of a woman in the highest office.
More than three decades before Clinton made her run for the presidency, African-American New York Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm made a spirited run for the presidency as a Democrat. In an oft-quoted quip, she noted that, “Of my two handicaps, being female put more obstacles in my path than being black.” Replace the name Chisholm with Clinton and nothing has changed.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).