Bending the Third Rail
Because We Should, We Can, We Do
Monday, January 22, 2007
On Being Black Or Female
Can a woman win the Presidency? How about a black? We'll see:
Although national polls show that more than 90 percent of Americans say they'd be comfortable voting for a qualified woman to serve as president, NIU political scientist Matt Streb says that a "a significant percentage of people are hiding their true feelings" because they know that opposition to a candidate based on gender alone is socially unacceptable.

How does he know? If people tell pollsters that they're comfortable with the idea of a female candidate, you probably won't get very far by asking them if they're really just hiding their true feelings. Instead, Streb and his NIU colleagues went at the question another way. They asked a test group of respondents to say how many of four different statements made them "angry or upset": the rising price of gas, the high salaries paid to professional athletes, pollution by large corporations and laws that require seat-belt usage. The researchers obtained a base number using those four statements, then added a fifth: "a woman serving as president." With that statement in the mix, the mean number of "angry or upset" responses increased by so much that the researchers believe that about 26 percent of their respondents were troubled by the "woman serving as president" addition.

According to a summary of the findings in an NIU press release, the researchers saw "virtually equal" levels of resistance among male and female respondents and "nearly equal" levels among respondents with different education levels. The researchers didn't test for the separate-but-similar question of race, but Streb surmises in the press release that the same sort of "social desirability" distortion is "almost certainly going to be a factor" in polls measuring support for Barack Obama.
In this day-n-age this is astounding, if true. I know that Harold Ford found the same kind of polling distortion in his recent Senate race with the polls showing him much closer than it actually turned out. Unfortunately, I suspect it's true and Hillary may have to be a sacrificial lamb to break this dynamic down.
Anonymous Snowtop said...
Perhaps this is more about the only potential female President we currently have, and less about women in general. If, for example, it was Elizabeth Edwards running for President, and not Hilary Clinton, the hostility would be a tad less.

Blogger GreyHair said...
Well, I wish you were right. But if that were true, how do you explain Harold Ford's experience? That *could* be evidence that it's a more generally based bias than just against Hillary.

Like I said, I hope you're right.