Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What to Make of Obama’s Strange Bedfellows, Namely Blacks and White Males
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

This is an election with some strange things happening. One of the strangest is the penchant for so many white males to join with African-American voters in a few primaries to back Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama. It’s strange not because of anything Obama has said or done to get so many white males behind him. It’s strange because of the possible motive many of the men that are voting for him. Let’s put it this way. Are they voting for him because they truly buy his flowery pitch of hope, change and unity. Or, is there something darker, and more insidious at work here. The something is 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.

Males make up slightly more than forty percent of the American electorate, and of that percent, white males make up thirty six percent, 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 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 in their presidential races. The majority of them that 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 that are voting for Obama. But at the same time, fewer than one in five white males labeled themselves as liberal.
The reasons for the intense and unshakeable loyalty of working and middle-class men to the GOP are not hard to find. The gap was first identified and labeled in the 1980 contest between Reagan and Carter. That year Reagan got more than a 20 percent bulge in the margin of male votes he got over Clinton. Women voters by contrast split almost evenly down the middle in backing both 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 apparent firmness and 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 thing that’s even less politically and gender correct to admit and that’s that the bias of many men toward women in high positions is so deep seated that they refuse to believe that they are even biased. Psychologists have testified in countless gender bias law suits that 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 only a relatively small percent of men 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 her could harm her candidacy. Female candidates offset the male bias by getting solid support from women voters.

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).