Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In 2008 Race, Many Presidential 'Firsts' Are Possible ; Candidates' Race, Gender, Age, and Religion Are among the Factors That Could Shape the Election

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In 2008 Race, Many Presidential 'Firsts' Are Possible ; Candidates' Race, Gender, Age, and Religion Are among the Factors That Could Shape the Election

Article excerpt

The 2008 presidential field presents a veritable cornucopia of potential firsts - a woman, an African-American, a Hispanic, a Mormon, and, representing the attribute perhaps most sensitive for discussion, a top contender who would be the oldest person ever to assume the American presidency.For Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama, and Bill Richardson, and Republicans Mitt Romney and John McCain, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, and age are, respectively, only a part of what defines them. But as they seek to shape their identities with the American people, each must cope with questions and challenges arising from personal attributes.Polls on all these characteristics - asked generically, without a specific name attached - lay out the contours of each candidate's challenge. In the latest Gallup poll, 11 percent of voters say they would not vote for a woman if their party nominated one, 5 percent would not vote for an African-American, and 24 percent would not vote for a Mormon. In all questions, the generic candidate is described as "a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be [fill in the blank]."According to Gallup, 87 percent of Americans say they are willing to vote for an unnamed Hispanic nominee (see New Mexico Governor Richardson, who is Mexican-American) and 12 percent are not. But in the same Gallup poll, taken Feb. 9-11, the percentage of Americans saying they are unwilling to vote for an unnamed 72-year-old - a whopping 42 percent - is bad news for Senator McCain, who will be 72 by Election Day.A Los Angeles Times/ Bloomberg poll taken last December shows 14 percent of voters would not vote for a 72-year-old. The difference may reflect differences in the two polls' wording.For the candidates, generic polls go only so far. Voters probably react differently to Senator Obama than, say, to the Rev. Al Sharpton, both of whom are black Demo-crats. McCain can counter questions about his age by presenting a vigorous profile on the campaign trail. And when a generic question is asked after a person who fits the profile comes to the fore, it is possible that person is skewing the result.In the Gallup poll, which has been asking the woman president question since 1937, the number has dropped in recent years - likely a reaction to Senator Clinton, who was a subject of presidential speculation for years before she announced. The portion of Americans willing to vote for a qualified woman nominee of their own party reached a high of 92 percent in 1999, and is now at 88 percent."Our hypothesis is, when you say, 'Would you vote for a woman?' some voters think Hillary Clinton, so you're getting a reaction from some hard-core Republicans," says Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup poll. …

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