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History Voters: How Racial Attitudes Helped, Rather than Hurt, Barack Obama’s Campaign for the Presidency
Unformatted Document Text:  Issue positions, party identification, and the personal qualities of candidates are the key determinants of vote choice (see Campbell et al. 1960; Downs 1957; Keeter 1987; Neimi and Weisberg 1993; Wattenberg 1991 research and reviews). The historical significance item can be viewed as an indirect measure of candidate quality (in the sense that Obama’s racial background can be an electoral asset), and the Time Magazine Poll has questions measuring party identification. Unfortunately, there are no questions dealing specifically with political issues, so I utilize a measure of political ideology as a distant proxy of issue position. My rationale is straightforward: liberals and conservatives differ substantially in their issue stances (see Carmines and Wagner for a review of research showing that ideologies inform policy positions), and the candidates did an effective job of drawing ideological contrasts between one another during the election. Table 2 offers a political profile of the survey respondents by examining partisan and ideological differences in their attitudes about historical significance. A higher percentage of self-identified Democrats believe the statement about the historical importance of an Obama Presidency than do Independents and Republicans (χ 2 = 247.56, p < .01). Likewise, strong and somewhat liberal respondents outnumber their conservative counterparts as believers in the historical importance of electing Obama (χ 2 = 164.80, p < .01). [Table 2 about here] Does appreciating the historical significance of a Black president make a person more likely to vote for Obama? Figure 1 shows that the percentage of respondents who prefer Obama increases with the belief that electing this candidate will heal America’s racial history (χ 2 = 333.02, p < .01). This lends support to the history-voting hypothesis, but a better test would involve assessing the effect of historical significance on candidate preference while controlling for demographic and political factors. The first two columns of Table 3 reports the results of a 9

Authors: block, ray.
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Issue positions, party identification, and the personal qualities of candidates are the key 
determinants of vote choice (see Campbell et al. 1960; Downs 1957; Keeter 1987; Neimi and 
Weisberg 1993; Wattenberg 1991 research and reviews). The historical significance item can be 
viewed as an indirect measure of candidate quality (in the sense that Obama’s racial background 
can be an electoral asset), and the Time Magazine Poll has questions measuring party 
identification. Unfortunately, there are no questions dealing specifically with political issues, so I 
utilize a measure of political ideology as a distant proxy of issue position. My rationale is 
straightforward: liberals and conservatives differ substantially in their issue stances (see 
Carmines and Wagner for a review of research showing that ideologies inform policy positions), 
and the candidates did an effective job of drawing ideological contrasts between one another 
during the election. Table 2 offers a political profile of the survey respondents by examining 
partisan and ideological differences in their attitudes about historical significance. A higher 
percentage of self-identified Democrats believe the statement about the historical importance of 
an Obama Presidency than do Independents and Republicans (χ
= 247.56, p < .01). Likewise, 
strong and somewhat liberal respondents outnumber their conservative counterparts as believers 
in the historical importance of electing Obama (χ
= 164.80, p < .01).  
[Table 2 about here]
Does appreciating the historical significance of a Black president make a person more 
likely to vote for Obama? Figure 1 shows that the percentage of respondents who prefer Obama 
increases with the belief that electing this candidate will heal America’s racial history (χ
333.02, p < .01). This lends support to the history-voting hypothesis, but a better test would 
involve assessing the effect of historical significance on candidate preference while controlling 
for demographic and political factors. The first two columns of Table 3 reports the results of a 
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