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McCain’s Negatives Mostly Political, Obama’s More Personal

Section 4: Race and Gender in the Democratic Primary

While race and gender have been the focus of a good deal of discussion through the course of the 2008 Democratic primary campaign, most voters believe that neither was a significant factor in the success or failure of the Obama and Clinton candidacies. And among those who believe race and gender were factors, somewhat more say they helped the respective candidates than say they hurt.

A 57% majority of all voters say the fact that Barack Obama is African American has not made a difference in his campaign for the Democratic nomination, and only slightly fewer (51%) say the same about the impact of Clinton’s gender on her primary bid. In total, 40% of voters say neither Obama’s race nor Clinton’s gender has had an impact on the Democratic contest.

With respect to Obama’s race, 22% of voters say Obama’s being African American has helped him, while 14% say it has hurt. There is a similar split in overall assessments of how Clinton’s gender has affected her campaign, with slightly more saying it has helped (24%) than hurt (20%).

Democrats are more likely than either Republicans or independents to say their party’s candidates have been hurt by these characteristics. The partisan contrast is greatest with respect to Clinton’s gender. More than a quarter of Democratic voters (27%) say that being a woman has hurt Clinton; far fewer Republicans (17%) and independents (14%) say the same. Yet even among Democrats, about as many say Obama’s race and Clinton’s gender helped their campaigns as say they were detrimental.

Younger voters are among the most likely to view race and gender as advantages in the primary process. About three-in-ten (29%) voters ages 18-34 say the fact that Obama is African American helped him, compared with 20% of those age 35 and over. And 31% of 18-34 year- olds say Clinton’s gender helped her, compared with 22% of those ages 35 and older.

African American voters are more likely than whites to say that race has been a factor in Obama’s candidacy. Half of African Americans say that race mattered, compared with 35% of white voters. Roughly three-in-ten blacks (31%) say the fact that Obama is African American has helped him, compared with roughly one-in-five whites (21%). But black voters are also slightly more likely than whites to see race having a negative impact (19% vs. 14% of whites).

African American voters are also among the most likely to say that Clinton’s gender has had an influence on her campaign: More than twice as many black voters believe being a woman has helped Clinton (40%) as believe it has hurt her (15%). By comparison, whites are evenly divided on this question (22% say she’s been helped, compared with 21% who say she’s been hurt).

More women than men say that gender has had an impact on the primary race (48% vs. 38%). Women are evenly divided about the impact on Clinton’s gender on her performance in the primary season; nearly a quarter (24%) believes being a woman has helped her, while the same proportion says it has hurt her. More male voters view Clinton’s gender as an advantage (23%) than view it as a disadvantage (15%).

Clinton Supporters See Gender as a Factor

Among Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters, both gender and candidate preferences are linked to views of whether gender played a role in Clinton’s campaign. Clinton supporters are far more likely than Obama supporters to believe that their candidate’s gender has had a negative impact on her campaign. Among all Clinton supporters, 33% say the fact that she is a woman hurt her, while 20% say it helped. Among Obama backers, just 16% say Clinton’s gender hurt her in the nomination contest, while 28% say it helped. There is no difference of opinion between Clinton and Obama backers over whether race affected Obama’s candidacy.

Gender is also a factor among Democratic voters. Women are more likely than men to say Clinton’s gender has hurt her (29% vs. 17% of men). And among Clinton supporters, 39% of women say Clinton’s gender has hurt her prospects compared with 23% of male Clinton supporters.

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