An ongoing study by UCLA and Stanford University researchers of 20,000 registered voters has found that far more of them would vote against Sen. John McCain because of his age than would vote against Sen. Barack Obama because of his race.
"We found that ageism is much more prevalent in America than racism," said Lynn Vavreck, UCLA assistant professor of political science and co-director of the UCLA–Stanford Cooperative Campaign Analysis Project (CCAP). "Respondents seemed to be much more likely to vote against McCain because of his age."
Research conducted in September found that 63 percent of the respondents voting against McCain said age was a factor in their opposition to him, while 16 percent of those voting for McCain said his age was a factor in their support of him.
The results for Obama were strikingly different with regard to race.
When presented with the same set of questions about Obama, and substituting race for age, 11 percent of those voting against Obama counted his race as a factor against him. However, 30 percent of respondents voting for Obama counted race as a reason to favor him.
"Many more people voting for Obama are attracted to Obama because of his multiracial background than the opposite," Vavreck said. "Among people voting against Obama, only one out of 10 include race as a factor in their decision."
To arrive at these conclusions, the CCAP randomly divided a sample of 8,000 respondents into three groups, with each group receiving different survey questions. One group was presented with a list of factors — including age — and was asked to identify which ones were important as reasons to vote for or against McCain.
A second group was asked to identify only how many of the items on the list were important as they decided who to vote for or against; age was left off the list. This group did not have to identify a specific issue, only how many off the list were important.
The same list of items was then presented to a third group, this time with age included.
The difference between the average number of choices selected in the second group and the third group is the percentage of people who added McCain's age to the list of reasons to vote for or against him.
The same experiment was conducted using race as a factor for or against Obama.
Such methodology allowed respondents to anonymously reveal whether they consider such factors as race or age when they vote for a candidate.
The CCAP surveyed respondents in December 2007 and January, March and September of this year. The study, the only academic nationwide presidential poll conducted exclusively on the Internet, reaches one of the largest groups of U.S. voters ever and involves 75 scholars from 30 universities.
CCAP investigators also found that respondents with a strong racial antipathy toward African Americans would probably not vote for Obama.
"The relationship between the respondents' racial attitudes toward African Americans and who they will vote for is very strong and remains so even after taking account of people's party identification, gender, income or level of education," Vavreck said.
In the Democratic presidential primary, respondents with higher levels of antipathy toward African Americans were more likely to vote for Sen. Hillary Clinton.
When Obama clinched the Democratic Party nomination this past summer, 31 percent of Clinton supporters said they would not vote for Obama and would instead vote for McCain.
However, Vavreck now predicts that nearly all Democratic voters will vote for Obama, even those with racial antipathy toward African Americans.
In September, white respondents with a high level of racial antipathy toward African Americans said they would vote for McCain, while those with a low level said they would vote for Obama. The stronger a respondent's racial antipathy, the stronger his or her support was for McCain.
But why are various polls indicating that Obama is leading, even in states that have a high number of white Republicans?
"Of course, not all white voters have high levels of racial antipathy. And the economy is certainly helping Obama," Vavreck said. "Voters tend to see the Republicans as the party to blame for the troubled economy."
"But white respondents' racial antipathy is still present," she added. "It's not a feeling that goes away over a short time, and it's related to vote choice very strongly."
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