Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Stupid Talk: The Race, Race, and Polls

Well, the Democratic primaries continue and quite frankly, I'm bored. I was frustrated, then I got mad and now, just bored. Barrack Obama will be our nominee, the math does not lie.

Currently, we are just waiting for that reality to sit in for some. The blog and pundit world seems to mainly consist of railing on Clinton or Clinton supporters fervently trying to perpetuate her arguments to stay in. Unfortunately, these same forums have also exploded into counter-productive talk of race. Talk of race can be a good thing in the right context. However, that hasn't been the case. Why? Race is not the only demographic that should be talked about. We are missing other important groups as well. We are forgetting about religion, age, class, and social background. All are part of the rich tapestry of America.

However, the talk this year is race and region. Namely, racial hotbeds. Racist Appalachia. The Black South. Labelling. Unfortunately it doesn't end there and many of these conversations degrade into flat out racism. All the talk seems to be about "poor, hardworking" white middle class voters, like they are the only ones that matter. (I do not want to give the illusion that I don't care or that they aren't hurting these days as well). Haven't we been catering to these voters since we started having general elections? Shouldn't there be other concerns this year? Like, maybe, say the people who actually are poor?

Of course all this talk of race is being fueled by polls. Polls that are taken and spun through regional demographics. The results are not pretty. The problem here is that we are all, and especially the pundit-class, oversimplifying and generalizing these polls and statistics. In the end we are left focusing almost completely on middle class whites. We are talking about one small segment of white voters and of course, the blacks are all lumped together. It creates an us vs. them mentality when you frame things that way. Why is there no discussion of middle class blacks or senior blacks or female blacks? Furthermore, looking at polls and people this way doesn't take into a account how truly diverse we are.

We are not discussing other important factors in the vote and how they interconnect or diverge. We are not looking at region in a full enough context. All we get is slices. Obama supposedly has a problem with middle class whites. But what about Kansas? Wisconsin? Iowa? North Dakota? To name a few. Religion is being ignored except in the most inflamatory ways possible. Age is a huge factor this year- yet nothing. Gender, largely ignored even with Clinton being in the race. Sexual preference- nada. There is some talk of class, but only in select groups (amongst whites). Hispanics are perhaps going to decide this election, yet all discussion of that demographic has died since Texas. Of course, there are no Latinos outside the Southwest! How silly of me.

To put it flatly- this narrowed discussion of the varied tapestry of America through the use of polls and demographics is divisive, polarizing, and demeaning to us all. They do not, cannot show how truly diverse we as a nation are, and they cannot fully capture how we as individuals come to our choices. Trends, perhaps. But trends change, and quickly, over time.

Ultimately my final point here is that polls are stupid and useless. No poll can truly factor in all the different types of people, their places in life, their very lives, their decisions. Thus polls prove nothing. Polls are not facts. So get a grip and don't believe the hype.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I don't see race. I see voters. Massive Democratic turnout this year. Period.

Discussion of polls at this point is stupid. We are not even in June yet. Furthermore, these polls will change dramatically when we have ONE nominee. These polls will continue to fluctuate until the fall and probably well into it. I refuse to keep arguing about polls and demographics. It is silly and it is divisive and needlessly polarizing. We are ostercizing the many to focus on the few. Basing a whole electability plan and path to the nomination on polls is just crazy.

So knock it off! Let's look to the future and start planning to win this thing. Time to put aside petty arugments and declare a winner. Maybe the silence will be deafening to some....
"...you saw a frame that presupposed white vs. black as the operative assumption. And, in the process, we simplified what was going on. In the earlier segment, someone mentioned -- I think it was David -- that Senator Obama is having trouble with moderate voters. Imagine a discussion last night that, instead of parsing based on racial lines, asked, what are the ideological divides? Or there is a division between younger and older. Or there is a division between male and female. There is actually also a division between rural and urban. And there's a difference that is really remarkable, when you start to put those patterns together, even in the absence of race. When the media focus on "the black vote," "the white vote," and then they start to particularize the white vote within that, they invite us to see race as a defining category of analysis. That simplifies, distorts, and heightens a concept that probably is best left not discussed in this broader, complex arena, because it's missing a whole lot of what's happening with this electorate."
-- Kathleen Hall Jamieson. She's brilliant. Love her.

"I would say that we are probably feeling a lot freer to talk about something that we're no better at talking about. And I think when you look at the -- such phrases as "soccer mom," "NASCAR dad," so many of the euphemisms that we have produced, to talk about people by race or class, we're still hiding behind something other than what we're actually saying. And, journalistically, I think our responsibility is not to reflect the society on those things, but to reflect the values of journalism, which suggests precision over euphemism, for example, and accuracy vs. obfuscation. And I think we have been guilty more of imprecision and obfuscation than we have of accuracy on this front. When you look at the conversation around those euphemisms, one of the consequences is that we have reduced people, in many ways, to those categories, and allowed the public, essentially, to draw what I would imagine will always be a race-based conclusion about the group we're talking about. So, when we talk about the white working-class voter who does not vote for Barack Obama, guess what conclusion the other folks in this country are going to make about those voters? Now, we're going to conclude that they are bigots. If -- when we talk about black voters without distinguishing between one and the other, then we have a bunch of sheep running behind the black candidate because they're black, and they're not thinking, and they have no sophistication whatsoever."
--Keith Woods

Both commenting from this segment on PBS' NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Check it out!

Update: Here is an example of what I would call a fair and detailed look at demographics and RESULTS, not polls. Here you get a better example of what role race, region, and religion are playing in the race. Where is the coverage on the tee-vee like this?

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