Thursday, January 17, 2008

Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of equality lingers in the political air of this Democratic presidential primary season as a woman and black man vie for the party’s nomination. Syracuse University will host a dinner Sunday to honor the spirit of King through out his life and struggles.

But the struggle is not over; it has just taken another face.

That face belongs to the vote of the black woman, torn between voting in the primary with allegiance to her identity or according to her policy preference.

Sophomore Kendra Courtney Adjei finds policy as the main influence on her vote, but admits that other elements play a role in making her decision.

"I think it's impossible to have anyone vote strictly policy-based. There are always different biases that naturally happen and race just happens to be one of them,” she said. “I think with many African-Americans it will run through their minds—voting just for the sake of identity, with those who identify with them racially."

Political commentators like New York Times’ David Brooks categorize these biases as a result of identity—what a person defines themselves as, whether it is by gender, race or any other description.

Adjei said she identifies with both race and gender but feels that she is more defined by her race between the two.

"I think it's just the surroundings. Everyone is like, 'you need a black president,’ someone who is for minorities,” she said. “So I guess, not that it really sways my opinion, but that's just what I hear more of."

Identity plays a small role in affecting Adjei’s vote, but some black women will consider only identity when placing their primary vote for the Democratic nomination.

"It depends on the person, whether they choose to let that determine their vote or let policy determine their vote,” she said. “I think it will definitely be a factor in African- Americans.”

Adjei said she does not feel that her identity influences her political behavior enough to swing her vote against her policy preference. When given the choice, she would vote for the candidate more aligned with her political ideology, even if she shared identity with the other contender, she said.

Political Science Professor Jeffrey Stonecash of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs finds that race influences the Democrat vote more than gender.

"There are always people who say race is a pretty powerful factor in American politics,” he said. “There is no group that votes so much on the base of one attribute."

Gender may not be as politically powerful as race, but it still holds weight.

Women accounted for the majority of partisan voters in 52 percent of the 82 Democratic presidential primaries that took place between 1980-1996, according to Barbara Norrander’s study, "The Intraparty Gender Gap: Difference between Male and Female Voters in the 1980-2000 Presidential Primaries.” Men held the majority in 1 percent of the same primaries and 48 percent recorded equal participation by both genders, according to the study.

Choices run deep for black women; they determine how much policy and identity drive their votes, as well as whether they identify more with their race or gender. Even deeper, they want their vote to count.

"I'm sure a lot of them are playing the game of electability; they're just trying to figure out who's going to win,” Stonecash said. “They're torn between being loyal to their identity and they don't want to end up supporting someone such that the Democrats lose."

Black Democrats, both male and female, favored Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination since March, but preference shifted this month, according to a recent Gallup poll. Between Nov. 1 and Jan, 10, black Democrats’ support for Obama rose 18 percent and dropped 21 percent for Clinton, according to the poll.

Stonecash credits a portion of this shift in public opinion to Obama’s caucus win in Iowa on Jan. 3.

“For a long time the black population was very supportive of Clinton because they didn't think Obama could do it,” he said. “Now all of the sudden they are like, 'Oh, maybe he can'."

Adjei will continue to follow coverage of the primaries, but their results will not affect her vote, she said. More personal investigation of the candidates’ platforms will help to narrow her decision.

The keynote speech delivered by the associate professor of African-American studies and history at the University of Illinois at Chicago Sunday might aid Adjei and other black women as they contemplate the role of their identity in politics.

Adjei is not sure if the Democrats’ primary question is best answered by the nomination of a man or a woman, but she knows one thing.

“What we need is something different, because what we've been doing hasn't been working," she said.


yofred said...

i read that article by Brooks as well and found it an interesting read. i think its unfortunate that these two candidates are injecting race or gender issues to gain political influence. ive always admired the courage of authors that would admit his homosexuality in the middle of the book, instead of immediately stating it in the opening paragraph, and hook their readers by identity or affiliation instead of experience or character. given genetic should not be used as an ezpass to political power.

remember when i told you that obama should be voted in by affirmative action? well i was joking about that, though i do support him. imagine what he would represent to the united states and the world if a black president was elected. if the world was allowed to vote in our election, i would think he would picked as well. imagine if romney won consecutive primaries and the christian nation decided to endorse him. it would be recognized as a huge symbolic step towards religious reconciliation. i admit that i dont pay enough attention to the minute details of social issues that are often discussed in these binary debates, but i see a lot of gray areas in american politics and candidates this year and its been encouraging me to stay up to date with it.

in 2004 i was barely eighteen and my vote was for george bush because the local reverend supported him. i will make sure not to make the same mistake again.

yofred said...

ps i hear youve been putting my music to good use. i met up with justin on sunday and he was like "dude, i hate you. i had to listen to 6 hours of your music today."

ashley said...

I can't remem if this was in that Brooks article or in something else I read, but there was a prof who did a study where based on people's flash judgments of candidates he could accurately predict the outcome of 70% of elections. so i think that your interviewee def hit the nail on the head about outside factors affecting decision making. although i dont know if any flash judgment could predict how this one will turn out :)