Monday, June 23, 2008

Political Attitudes on Race and Age

Last week we were discussing racial attitudes and prejudices in American culture, and the similarity between racism and ageism. Here's a new survey on racial bias and age concerns in the upcoming presidential election.

As Sen. Barack Obama opens his campaign as the first African American on a major party presidential ticket, nearly half of all Americans say race relations in the country are in bad shape and three in 10 acknowledge feelings of racial prejudice, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Lingering racial bias affects the public's assessments of the Democrat from Illinois, but offsetting advantages and Sen. John McCain's age could be bigger factors in determining the next occupant of the White House.

McCain's challenges are also an important part of the equation. Numerous polls, for example, have indicated that McCain's age may be a bigger detractor than Obama's race.

In the Democratic primary the public was getting a chance to come to terms with both race and gender issues (and their attendant racism and sexism) in the media. The general election will present age (and ageism) as another factor as well.

The U.S. has come a long way on all of these issues over the past 40 years or so, but I think we should qualify the 30% who "acknowledged" overt feelings of racial prejudice. Even in the anonymity of surveys, respondents are often loathe to discuss their "real" feelings when it comes to racial attitudes, so in that sense the percentage could be much higher.

I would also be prepared for a frank discussion on ageism this summer and fall. With the Baby Boomer generation heading towards retirement, and a potential 80 million more senior citizens joining the rolls in the next 15 years, ageism may be the next civil rights hurdle we have to confront when it comes to prejudice and bias in society.

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