By Erma Williams
The inclusion of Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama into the 2008 Presidential Election has sparked wonder about what their bids for the presidency means for African-Americans.
According to the Chicago Tribune’s article titled ABlack Voters Focus on Clinton, Obama (November 28, 2007), African-American voters are primarily focused on Clinton and Obama. “African-American voters are really only looking at two candidates,” said David Bositis, a senior analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. “There is Hillary Clinton and there is Barack Obama. Really, none of the other candidates exist in the realm that Clinton and Obama occupy.”
The results of a survey that was conducted by the center shows that Clinton is viewed favorably by 83 percent of Black voters, compared to Obama’s 74 percent. In the survey, there was a small gender gap as African-American women chose Clinton as the favorite with positive ratings of 86 percent. Bositis said that Clinton’s lead may be due in part to the economic success African-Americans experienced during her husband’s time in the White House. According to the Census Bureau, the Black population’s annual median household income increased by $5,000 during President Bill Clinton’s second term.
Experience is another factor that is working in Clinton’s favor especially among Black women. During National Public Radio’s broadcast titled, Black Women Face Quandary in Democratic Race (April 9, 2007), Linda Wortheimer visited the Women’s Center at Morgan State University, a historically Black institution, to get Black women’s opinion on the candidates. Philosophy major Sarah McMillan said that she is leaning toward Clinton because of her experience. “Obama has passion but not experience,” she said. “Candidates need experience because they need to know how to influence others properly to get the desired results.”
Other women, like renowned poet Maya Angelou, are endorsing Clinton because she is a woman, wife and mother. “I know what kind of president Hillary Clinton will be because I know who she is,” says Angelou on advertisements that are being broadcast on Southern radio stations.
Although Clinton is ahead of Obama in the polls, she has only a 10 percent edge over him in regards to the Iraq War. Along with health care and the economy, African-Americans name the Iraq War as the most pressing issue facing America. During the NPR broadcast, “Obama and Clinton Seek Edge for Black Vote” (March 8, 2007), NPR correspondent Juan Williams pointed out the disparities between Clinton and Obama regarding the Iraq War. “From the start, Obama has opposed the Iraq War,” Williams said. “Clinton voted for the war but won’t say that her original vote was a mistake. She just says that she voted on the best available information.”
Shelly Hoston, who was also interviewed by Wortheimer, expressed her disapproval of both the war and Clinton. “We were given a snow job about what this war was about,” Hoston said. “She’s [Clinton] saying ‘no’ [about the war] now, but she voted ‘yes’ at first.”
Aside from the war issue, many African-American women are siding with Obama because they feel that he has African-Americans’ best interests at heart. Gayle Carter, another of Wortheimer’s interviewees, says that his compassion makes him the best candidate for the job. “He has the compassion of being African-American that will stay with him,” she said. “Folks will always see him as African-American, but they’re taken aback when they hear him open his mouth because he has a broader outlook on the world.”
A student at Morgan State University, says the election is about race. “The hierarchy is white man, white woman, Black man, Black woman,” she said. “I’m a woman, but I’m like two doors down from her. She’s not thinking about us, and I know Barack is thinking about us.”
There are other women, like Nelly Montaine, who supports Obama but does not feel that he would be elected because he is Black. “Some people will vote for Barack Obama because he’s Black, but this is still White America,” Montaine said. “When the majority of America, which is white, looks at Obama, they don’t see someone with mixed racial heritage. They see a Black man. The reality is that he’s going to have a struggle.”
Then there is the group, which consists of women like Janice Stuart, who wants Obama to win because she wants to see a change in America. “We’ve given the white man all these years to get it right, and it’s about time to make a change,” she said. “Let someone else try and see what they can do.”
No one knows what the end result of the 2008 election will be at this point, but all of these perspectives make one thing clear: This historic election will always be remembered.