Race Remains An Election Wild Card In Ohio With the 2008 presidential election less than a month away, Ohio remains a fiercely contested swing state. Guests and callers weigh in on how race may — or may not — play a role for Ohio voters as they decide between Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain for president.

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This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan broadcasting today from the Battelle Studio at WOSU at COSI Science and Technology Museum in Columbus, Ohio. And here in this crucial swing state, there is no campaign issue harder to quantify than Senator Barack Obama's race. The first African-American to win the presidential nomination of a major party, Senator Obama portrays himself often as post-racial, a biracial candidate with roots in both worlds. But it's far from clear how many voters see it that way.

An AP-Yahoo! poll conducted last month found that one-third of white Democrats harbor negative attitude towards black. Some analysts believe that Obama's lead over Senator John McCain would be significantly higher if it were not for race, and others suspect people may tell pollsters one thing but vote differently on the basis of race. Race operates differently depending on who you talk to and depending on where you are. Today in Ohio, we'll ask our studio audience what the effect of the issue here. We'll also ask you - whether you live in Pennsylvania or California, rural Iowa or multi-ethnic Miami - how does race play out in this election where you live?

Our phone number, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our blog. That's at npr.org/blogofthenation. And of course, we'll also talk with people here at COSI. Thanks to you all for coming in. We do appreciate it. We'll begin with Paul Allen Beck. He's with us here in the Battelle Studio, and it's nice to have to have you on Talk of the Nation today.

Professor PAUL ALLEN BECK (Ohio State University): Good to be here, Neal. Thank you.

CONAN: And you've done some proprietary polling around this state.

Prof. BECK: Well, not proprietary necessarily, but polling for the Big 10 battleground poll. We did it in September in Ohio and seven other Big 10 states and these are the battleground states in the 2008 election. We also did a nationwide poll at the same time so that we could benchmark the eight states against the national pattern.

CONAN: And how did you try to detect racial patterns here?

Prof. BECK: Well, it's never easy to do. There's the so-called Bradley effect that comes really from the 1980s when a number of racists - Bradley, Wilder in Virginia, Dinkins in New York City...

CONAN: Tom Bradley running for Governor...

Prof. BECK: For Governor of California, that's right - Mayor of Los Angeles. In each case, voters told pollsters they were going to vote for Bradley and many of them ended up not doing that. And the suspicion at the time - and again, it's hard to find evidence on this - but the suspicion at the time was that there were some voters who really couldn't bring themselves to tell usually a middle-aged female interviewer over the telephone or in person that they should have voted Democratic but they really were not going to vote Democratic because of the candidate's race. And so that's a well-known effect.

There is evidence that it has dissipated over time, there are fewer people of that sort. But it may still be there in this 2008 election. It tends to turn up most for executive offices. Mainly, I suspect, because these are single offices that put somebody in charge of a government. And so in some ways the stakes are higher, and you would think that if people are prejudiced and are otherwise going to vote for that party but don't because of the candidate's race it would be an executive contest where they do that.

CONAN: Is it difficult, though, to get people to speak openly about racial prejudice? I think that most people believe that, well, you shouldn't - if you do harbor it, you shouldn't talk about it publicly.

Prof. BECK: It depends. I'm always amazed at the number of people on national television, some of the cable stations, who will say quite openly that I can not vote for Barack Obama because he is a black man and I just can't envision a black holding the presidency. I think there are probably few of them these days. But those who are there seem to be in many cases quite open about it.

I heard one the other day where an elderly woman and her daughter were interviewed together and the elderly woman said exactly that and the daughter said, mother, I'm ashamed of you. And the mother actually teared up at that point. And she said, oh, I'm so sorry. I didn't really know I had those attitudes so prominently. Maybe I ought to rethink this. So there is that factor, certainly, there. There also are people who harbor some elements of racial prejudice but they're unconscious and we can pick up evidence of that in some very cleverly crafted experiments.

CONAN: Like?

Prof. BECK: Well, like the one - there's a Stanford-Yahoo! poll that was done recently.

CONAN: We mentioned in the introduction…

Prof. BECK: Yes. And there they have a series of adjectives that are describing people, that are basically making them similar in every characteristic but their race. And they find in those cases that people - some people who think of themselves as liberals, by the way - harbor these kinds of attitudes. The question really is, do they up not voting for the candidate for that reason? There also is a lot of experimental evidence gathered over the years and asking people about comparing the credentials of various applicants for jobs where everything is held constant except the race. And there again is some evidence of what you might call "unconscious prejudice." People aren't aware of that. That, again, could be a factor.

I think, actually, one of the interesting things about the 2008 campaign is that Barack Obama as a candidate - and a very attractive candidate - has, I think, done a lot to remove those kinds of stereotypes. It's pretty hard to think of African-Americans, let's say, as uneducated when you see somebody who has incredible levels of education. It's pretty hard to think of African-Americans as, I don't know, angry - to pick another adjective that sometimes is seen in these studies - when he is cool and calm, when he doesn't react in an angry way to clear provocations. So, you know, I think this in many ways has been a good thing in dispelling some of these stereotypes that people have. They're not conscious of them all the time, and these stereotypes obviously can affect how they make their decisions.

CONAN: And we're talking with Paul Allen Beck, a professor of political science at Ohio State University who's done polling in Ohio on voters' behavior and race. And the point we were mentioning at the top of the program: does it depend on where you are from, particularly, in Ohio?

Prof. BECK: I think it does. I think there is a greater tendency among Democrats - and it's Democrats we're talking about, people who otherwise should vote for a Democratic candidate for president - there's a greater tendency we find - and we actually pick this up on our surveys - for voters in - and these are Democrats - voters in states that have substantial African-American populations to be more inclined to vote against an African-American.

This is similar to the tendencies we saw in the South for many, many years. And, you know, during the segregated south, that segregation in many ways was strongest in those counties that had the most blacks living in them. And there was a threat factor. Whites felt threatened, I suspect, in big cities - Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, maybe, and others. Some whites - and I don't want to exaggerate the numbers because I think the numbers are actually fairly small - but there are some whites who are threatened by a substantial black community, and in turn, an African-American candidate for president.

Their thinking might be, well, if I participate at the election of this person, he will be much more inclined to favor them. The "them'" being the out group, in this case African-Americans. I - you know, the other thing I should add here is that there are plenty of people who will vote against Barack Obama for reasons that have nothing to do with race. There are reasons of ideological position, their policy, reasons most of them probably would vote Republican anyway.

CONAN: And Republicans may be prejudiced, too, but they would vote against any Democrat.

Prof. BECK: They might be. There are plenty of other things that lead them in this direction. I think the ones that are particularly important in this election are the people who otherwise should vote Democratic.

CONAN: And George Packer, the writer for the New Yorker Magazine, was interested in precisely those people. Looked at the numbers but wanted to talk to people with stories and explanations. And so he went to talk to them himself, taking a trip through the Midwest. It was, he says, a revelatory trip. He wrote a piece called "The Hardest Vote: the Disaffection of Ohio's Working Class." George Packer joins us now from our bureau in New York. It's nice to have you back on Talk of Nation, George.

Mr. GEORGE PACKER (Writer, New Yorker Magazine): It's good to be with you.

CONAN: And you can find the link to his article on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. Revelatory? How come?

Mr. PACKER: I live in Brooklyn. I'm surrounded by people for whom - by the way, I can hear my voice as an echo. Maybe you can do something about that. It's a little hard to concentrate.

CONAN: We'll have the engineers work on that, you know. OK.

Mr. PACKER: I'm surrounded by people who - for whom race is either a silent issue or no issue. And in journalism the same is true. And when you watch the networks, the cable networks, when you listen to NPR, it's only spoken of in euphemistic terms. And it's - with a certain amount of fear and hesitation - I found in eastern Kentucky and in parts of Wisconsin and in parts of Ohio that it was not at all hard to hear that race was a major factor for some people. Not necessarily the person I was talking to, but the person I was talking to always knew someone - whether a brother or a parent or a co-worker - for whom it was. And that told me that this is something that is going to play a role that we can't predict but that will be a strong role in the election.

I heard in eastern Kentucky - quite directly from some Hillary supporters - they'd never vote for Obama, because he's black. And when I asked why, essentially the answer was, because he's going to put the black man over the white man. As your other guest was saying, there's a sense in which there's kind of a zero sum competition between the races. And if the blacks get that kind of power they're bound to get revenge for all the historical wrongs and, in the sense, to take our jobs. So it was a pretty primal struggle for survival in that man's view. In parts of Ohio - like southeastern Ohio, which is Appalachia - I didn't hear anything quite that direct but I did hear that Obama is a radical, that Obama is a Muslim, that - the idea that Obama is a Muslim is a widely held belief. And I think those are proxies for race. I don't think that the tag of Muslim would stick quite so persistently if he weren't black. And I also don't think the tag of radical would stick.

I mean, this is - the country has come to know him as the most judicious, even-tempered - if anything, rather dull and boring, an establishment politician - that we've seen in a while. But he's - a woman said to me, "I think he's a radical." And I think the - in the last few days the Republican campaign has begun to play in to that feeling which I do believe is a euphemism or a kind of a substitute for talking about race. So, it's there, it's unknowable, but it was revelatory in the sense that it told me what a remarkable thing it would be to have a black president in this country and what a difficult thing it would be, what a great leap of imagination for a lot of people it would be.

CONAN: We're talking about how race plays out in this election. How is it playing out where you live? In Eau Claire, Wisconsin, George Packer talked to a man named Roger Kat(ph), a retired farmer and warehouse worker who said, "McCain is more of the same and Obama is the end of life as we know it." We'll talk more about that when we get back. 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. I'm Neal Conan. It's Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan, broadcasting from the Batelle Studio at WOSU at COSI, a science and technology museum in Columbus, Ohio. Our focus today: the issue of race in this presidential election, whether you live in Pennsylvania or California, rural Iowa or multi-ethnic Miami. How does race play out in this election where you live? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. We're also asking for responses from our audience here in the studio with us at COSI. Paul Allen Beck is with us. He's Professor of Political Science at Ohio State University, has done polling in Ohio on voters behavior and race. Also with us, George Packer. His article in this week's New Yorker Magazine focuses on voters in Ohio, and a substantial part of that focuses on race. Of course race not the only issue affecting this campaign, but it's often the elephant in the room when some voters try to explain what bothers them about Senator Barack Obama. They can't quite put their finger on it.

Unidentified Man: I don't think there's to be a problem with a black man. I personally just don't think Obama's the right one.

Unidentified Woman: He just has not - I just don't - I just can't trust him.

CONAN: A former cop and a former factory worker in York, Pennsylvania. And George Packer, that sounds a lot like some of the people you encountered on your travels through the Midwest.

Mr. PACKER: Yet, trust was the issue that came up over and over, and some of Obama supporters -including among Union workers whom I met - said what people really need is for a friend or a neighbor to vouch for him. That's why this door to door canvassing and seeing a yard sign on your street is so important, because in communities is like that, it's the Bradley effect in reverse. It may well be that it's - people might support him but don't want to admit it because it would make them unpopular, as one woman told me. But there was a moment when I was sitting in the living room of an elderly in Glouster, Ohio with a group of people who'd come as potential Obama supporters, but they were very mixed and hesitant.

And one woman suddenly started telling a story of how her great grandparents had a slave girl in the family who was buried in the family plot - which to her meant that this girl had been kind of accepted in the family. And this story sort of came out of nowhere, and it took me a while to realize - and I thought about at later on - this was sort of her way of grappling with and perhaps coming to terms with the thought of a black president. It's not something she welcomes or even likes, but it may be something she can accept. And she was sort of talking herself into it with - telling a story like that. My guess is that's going on in a lot of people's hearts, in addition to the kind of resistance that we've been focusing on.

CONAN: We're going to get to calls in a minute and to emails as well, and to questions from here in the audience in Columbus, but I want to bring another voice into the conversation - John Powell Director of Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race & Ethnicity at Ohio State. He studies conflicting biases that lurk within us. And he joins us here at the Battelle Studio as well. Nice to have you with us today.

Mr. JOHN POWELL (Executive Director, The Kirwin Institute for the Study of Race & Ethnicity): Good to be here, Neal.

CONAN: And when you hear those anecdotes from George Packer, what does that say to you?

Mr. POWELL: Well, first of all I think that the way that people - the way that we understand race is actually problematic. We think of a person being a racist or not a racist or being prejudiced or not prejudiced. The reality is, we're complex. Most of us - not a small number - most of us have conflicting racial views, and that's good. That's progress. There was a period where there wasn't conflict. People had very clear racial views. Most of them we would be embarrassed by today. And so the conflict is this: that most Americans and some - by some accounts 70, 80 percent - have embraced a kind of racial egalitarian norm, and yet a high number of that same group have internal conflict.

And so - and that conflict is not just lying, it's not just - it's not false, it's not the Bradley effect. The Bradley effect is basically where people either lie to the pollster - they say they're going to vote for black candidate and they knew they weren't going to do that - or sometimes they may have had just conflict and they couldn't pull it off. I'm talking about something different. I'm talking about people having different internal norms: a norm of egalitarianism and a norm of racial resentment. Interesting question is, which of those norms become the most operative and which becomes the most salient.

And that depends. It depends on how we talk about things. They called it priming. People can be primed so that they're worst aspect becomes the dominant aspect, or their best aspect becomes the dominant aspect. So it's not just, even just identifying people - politician, pundits, all of us - we actually prime people. So either the person's better angels or their hopeful part becomes dominant, or their most virulent part becomes dominant. And that's what so important about how we talk about race.

CONAN: And to you does that explains some of the findings in some these of polls that we were talking about with Paul Allen Beck, where people may say they may harbor some kind of prejudice according to these very clever polling techniques yet still say they're going to vote for Barack Obama?

Mr. POWELL: Certainly. And I think - one thing that's important is that no one wants - in a society where the norm is egalitarianism, no one wants to admit it to themselves or to others that they have prejudiced views. And the fact is, virtually all of us do. It's - this is a social phenomenon not just a individual phenomena. And the way you get at those is you do what they call association test. There's something called the implicit association - Harvard Implicit Association Test. We actually can measure someone's internal conflict and internal bias that they don't even necessarily know. So it's not a mystery. There is a way of actually measuring it and there's a actual way of affecting it to move to a more hopeful and positive space.

CONAN: Now let's get some callers and listeners into the conversation. We'll begin here in Columbus with the microphone here.

CATHY (Audience): Hi. I'm Cathy. And since you're both academicians I thought I'd present a false dichotomy question for you. Is Barack Obama's candidacy - does it herald a see change in America or is it an aberration?

Prof. BECK: Well, it's - you know, this won't surprise you - it's probably a little both. I mean, it's more than just symbolism. It really does require us as a country to sort of think about where we are, to think about where we've been and think about where we're going. But there's an exaggeration because we do think in terms of dichotomies. And one of the favorite dichotomies is that we're either back in the Civil Rights movement struggling to change all of the bad laws and bad behaviors, or in this post-racial world where race doesn't matter. Both of those are false.

The world is much more complicated than that and that's why this sort of conflict matters. There's a good - research that suggests that a political candidate by himself or herself does not change the underlying racial dynamics of the country. It creates a space. It creates an opportunity. But it takes much more than just one person. It takes a - not only a continued dialogue - it also takes looking at the work that our institutions do to actually replicate racial distance. Most of us still live in racially segregated communities. Most of us still go to racially segregated churches. Most of us send our kids to racially segregated schools. And this is at the same time that we're claiming that we're in a post-racial world.

Institutions are doing the work for us. It doesn't mean that we haven't made progress, so we're not necessarily in the Civil Rights mode or in the post-racial mode. We're in a continuum. And a lot of it's up for grabs. But one person can't do it. We have to participate in this. And how it will turn out, who knows.

CONAN: We'll get back to you in a second, Professor Beck. But I wanted to get the non-academician involved here because George Packer was talking to people who feel that they are on the edge of an abyss and that nobody is listening to them.

Mr. POWELL: Exactly. I was just going to put in that race is not the only factor among the working class white voters I talked to. And in fact it's not the most important factor. The key factor's that their lives are in a tail spin. Some of them had given up hope of being able to join the middle class. Some of them told me that Ohio is a dying state and that their children are leaving to seek education and jobs elsewhere. This is downward mobility toward the level of working poor. And it's an incredible blow to people who had a sense of pride in calling themselves middle class. And their suspicion of politicians and government is so profound that I think, just as strong as Obama's race is the cynicism about his promises.

People who don't even mention his race or the idea that he might be Muslim told me that they don't believe that his tax cuts are possible because there's not enough revenue in the upper incomes to be able to limit tax increases to people making over a quarter million. They don't believe his health care plan because it'll only mean that they'll lose their end of year raise. There's a sense that - there's just no more large possibilities for government to intervene in a helpful way in their lives. And so the Democratic party, which has been losing working class whites for decades, is in the really difficult position of trying to convince them that no, it's not true.

Just give us a chance and we can do it. And Obama himself knows that he is an imperfect messenger of a very difficult message. And that class of people may well hold the key to the election and his ability to win over some element of trust, not just in him as a black candidate for president but in government and in the Democratic Party.

CONAN: Let me ask you, Cathy, do you think it's a see change or an aberration?

CATHY: I agree with John's analysis that...

CONAN: Little bit of both.

CATHY: False dichotomies are usually false. But I have a bit of a follow question and it has to do with the race for governor in Ohio two years ago where the Republican Party had an African-American candidate. And I was wondering if the findings of the study - the current studies - would apply equally to Republican voters from that gubernatorial election having to do with race.

CONAN: Paul Allen Beck, why don't you jump in on that?

Prof. BECK: Well, we didn't focus on this specifically in the last gubernatorial election. But from what I've read in other studies, there was some element of that and people's perception of Ken Blackwell. Some on the Republican side who couldn't bring themselves to vote for him. But again, I think you have the same mix of motivations and perceptions and I would actually come back to something that John said that I think was really useful in thinking about this: often people are conscious of these prejudices or stereotypes that they have, but those prejudices and stereotypes filter information and misconstrue or well - prime is the word that psychologists would use - but lead people to think things they wouldn't otherwise think.

But again, all of this is unconscious. And so you can't really pin it down. I think this was probably true in 2006 as well as 2008 and I would add on this question that you initially posed that I think, in some ways, Obama's nomination was an aberration. None of us a year ago expected him to be the nominee. We expected, I think on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton to be the nominee. That didn't happen for a variety of reasons, maybe having more to do with the war in Iraq than the war in Iraq affects things right now. But I think it could usher in a sea change in attitudes. It could bring these stereotypes to the floor, make people more conscious of them and by his very candidacy and his performance if elected president, he could quash those stereotypes.

People could say, well, I've always believed this, or subconsciously feel it, always believed this. But on the other hand, there are these examples out there of someone who just doesn't fit the stereotypes. So in some ways, that would be a wonderful change for this society, I think and a change that we have not had the opportunity to go through in the past.

Mr. POWELL: If I could jump in here, Neal, just one thing.

CONAN: John Powell, go ahead, please.

Mr. POWELL: One thing, sort of talking about- I think it's difficult to know unless you do these complicated tests where race is really a factor or not because most people can't tell you. If you ask someone that's something about this in their unconscious, they don't know. It's not that they're lying and again, that's not just true for whites, that's true for every group. That's not just true for men, women, everyone has unconscious conflict. What's interesting, though, is that how quickly we are to move away from race. So for example, when we say the Democratic Party hasn't gotten the majority of white votes since 1964. What happened in 1964, Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act into law and he says "I've just given the Republican Party the South for a generation."

CONAN: Two generations have passed.

Mr. POWELL: Exactly. The point is, that was about race. The South was solidly Democratic and now, it's solidly Republican and no one is going to say it's because of race, but they develop something out of it called the Southern Strategy. How do you actually appeal to white resentment so that you can get white votes, but not do it explicitly so that you alienate whites who would not embrace you if you're explicitly racist? So that's been the strategy? How do you appeal to white resentment on one hand and appear to be egalitarian on the other hand, and that's been the dance that we've been doing in national politics since 1964. And Nixon said Goldwater did it poorly, Nixon did it better. And some people say Reagan was the master.

CONAN: We're talking with John Powell, George Packer and Paul Allen Beck here in Columbus, Ohio. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And here's an email from Eric: "I was born in '71 and grew up in Montgomery, Alabama. I saw examples of racism throughout my childhood from outright bigotry to simple statements like an interracial couple is just trying to make a point. After college, I moved to Birmingham and began to believe that racism had finally died out or at around my generation until social networking site such as YouTube showed me that racism is alive and festering and that in fact, we hadn't grown out of racism. I had just moved out of Montgomery." So again, a very specific location there that he cites. Let's go to Louise. Louise is with us from Boomer in North Carolina.

LOUISE (Caller): Good afternoon.

CONAN: Good afternoon. Go ahead, please.

LOUISE: I'm white, Southern, and over 65. And I have seen racism in our area. In fact, I even heard one man say that there was no way he was going to vote for and he used the 'N' word. This was in a checkout line at a grocery store. And I challenged him. I said I'm voting for Obama, and of course, he said, he went into almost a rage. But we've had that happen in North Carolina before if everyone remembers when Harvey Grant ran against Jesse Helms, and Jesse Helms used the race card to win that election.

CONAN: Interesting that she raised that example, Louise. George Packer, you interviewed one man who said that he thought there were a lot of people would never vote for Barack Obama until he ran into another guy who freely used the 'N' word and said he's voting for Obama anyway.

Mr. PACKER: I guess that's the unconscious conflict that John Powell was talking about. The man just embodied it in that moment exactly. But I want to say something about '64 and how this all came about. While I was writing this article about the working class in Ohio, I came across a study that showed that although race certainly was the factor in the South, the reason why the working class deserted the Democratic Party beginning really in the mid-70's was economics.

The Democratic Party was unable to stop this class from beginning to sink from having its jobs go overseas, from having unions begin to disappear and when its economic fortunes faded in the mid-70's and that has continued up until now, the white working class, I think, made the decision for the Democratic Party, if they couldn't do that for them, then what could it do? And they began to vote Republican.

Obviously, race was a factor, abortion, guns, we all know these hot button issues that perennially enter into elections. But we shouldn't lose sight of the economic conditions in which these feelings grow and I think this year, the great question is have the economic conditions grown so grave that the white working class will overcome whatever prejudices it has and vote for Obama. Or have they grown so grave that the white working class has lost all faith in government to do anything and therefore will stay at home?

CONAN: Louise, what do you think? I think Louise has left us. But anyway, we thank her for her call. If you'd like to join the conversation, we're talking about how the race issue-how race plays out where you live. Give us a cal, 800-989-8255 or send us an email, Talk@NPR.org. You can also check out our blog at NPR.org/blogofthenation and read what other are listeners are writing about. And we're going to talk more with Paul Allen Beck, George Packer and John Powell in just a moment. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. We're broadcasting today from WOSU at COSI in Columbus, Ohio. It's Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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CONAN: This is Talk Of The Nation. I am Neal Conan broadcasting today from the Battelle Studio at WOSU at COSI, a science and technology museum in Columbus, Ohio. And here are headlines from some of the stories we're following today at NPR News. Two Americans and a Japanese researcher won the Nobel Prize in chemistry today for the discovery of a glowing jellyfish protein. Their work enabled scientist to study the machinery of life in action. It's become a tool used by thousands of researchers around the world. And it's another roller coaster day on Wall Street. The Dow Jones Industrial average was up and down then up again, a moment ago, up 21 points, details on those stories and of course, much more later today on All Things Considered.

Tomorrow, the presidential candidates don't talk about it much, but immigration is a big issue in many places in this country, even a long way from the Mexican border. We'll talk about the politics of immigration plus the coolest people in Athens, Ohio. We'll be there tomorrow on Talk Of The Nation from NPR News. Today the effective race on the presidential election, how is race playing out where you live. 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. Our guests are Paul Allen Beck, professor of political science at Ohio State University. George Packer, the staff writer for the New Yorker magazine and John Powell, executive director of The Kirwin Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, and he's with us here at COSI. Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And let's go to, this is Dan. Dan is with us from Portland in Michigan.

DAN (Caller): Yes. I'll make it quick, my cell phone is about to die. I am white man and kind of an independent that leans conservative. I just want to make a comment that my 19-year-old daughter, this will be her first election and she plans to vote for Barack Obama and her main reason is because she thinks it's about time that we have an African-American president. And I just want to point out that it does go a little bit both ways.

CONAN: And what about you?

DAN: Some people will vote for him just because, he's an African-American, and I just want to point that out.

CONAN: And what about you, Dan?

DAN: I disagree with some of his policies. I am independent, but I lean conservative. I don't have problem with him. I think he does have some really good ideas. But I think he goes a little too far. And I get a little worried with the Democratic Congress.

CONAN: All right. Dan, we'll let you go before your battery dies.

DAN: All right, thank you.

CONAN: Appreciate that and John Powell, I was wondering if you'd like to address that and there is an email that we have along the same lines. This is from Mark in Nevada. Why is it I keep hearing shows of warning, talking about anti-Obama effects on race, he had no concern about pro-Obama effects. I regular hear people saying Obama race is one of the reasons they are voting for him. Is one form of racism OK and not worthy of comment, but others are bad?

Mr. POWELL: Well, a couple of things. We are talking about really a complex set of concepts so we are talking about racial attitudes or racial prejudice, that's explicit? Racial attitudes or racism that's implicit. And then we are talking about even the way institutions are arranged. But think about this, so we are a country a little over 200 years old. We've never had a woman president. So in a sense, every election has been in a sense a election that's about men. We never had a black president. So, race has always been in the election. Gender has always been in the election.

It only becomes to notice when you have a prominent woman or a prominent non-white in the election. And it makes sense that if after 200 years, your group has never been in that top spot for people to have some racial pride. But the reality is, especially in terms of African-Americans, African-American voted almost 90 percent for Bill Clinton. It's not conceivable in any state that 90 percent of white population would vote for Barack Obama. So there maybe racial pride but it's not all the same. And this- I just wanted to tell you very quickly about an experiment that a friend of mine did. Claude Steele who was the chair of the psyche department at Stanford and Paul knows him well.

He does an experiment where he takes Asian-American women and he brings them into a room and he says. I am so glad that we have women here in Stanford, and then he gives them a math test. They bombed the test. From the same pool, he brings to a room and says, I am glad to have so many Asian-Americans here at Stanford. He gives them the same test and excel. They call that priming. The first test activated their womaness. And the women carried an internal sense that women do not perform well on a test. And so they failed it. The second test, the same group of women, same pool, with the same ability when he activated their Asianess, they excel. We have cues like that in our society all the time. And we need to pay attention to them. That's one of the ways we can prime people to do things to activate the better angels.

CONAN: George Packer, I know you went to talk to working-class whites in the Midwest about some of their anti-Obama attitudes and some of their anti-Democratic Party attitudes. But I wonder on that other side that we're just talking about, do you run across people in Brooklyn who are voting for Barack Obama because he is black, and of course, New York, not a swing state?

Mr. PACKER: Oh, I think in Brooklyn, they're voting for him because he's black, because he's a Democrat, because he's in every way, I think speaks to most people in Brooklyn. I mean, it's a heavily Democratic borough. But I completely agree with John Powell. It's just not comparable to a white person who will not vote for a black candidate, period. A black person who votes for Barack Obama out of pride - and I'm sure that's true of some, if not many - is doing it once because it's an extraordinary historical moment. It is not a sign of racism. It is not a sign of prejudice because that black person has probably voted for many white presidential candidates since that was the choice. So it's - I think it's a false comparison, and it just doesn't play out.

CONAN: Let's get a question on the microphone here in Columbus.

MIKE (Audience): Thank you. This is Mike. I think it's unfortunate for the program, and the subject just ought to be appropriate on a respected program such as this. Do you think after Obama is elected president, this will no longer be so?

CONAN: No, I don't.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I think this is going to be a continuing issue. The issue of race in America is the issue of America from the - virtually, the day it started. And I don't think it's going to go away if a black man is elected President of the United States. But I guess that question was to me.

MIKE: Anybody.

CONAN: Anybody. All right. I don't know. I'd like to bring you back in the conversation, Professor Beck.

Prof. BECK: Well, let me jump into this because I think that if Barack Obama is elected president, a lot of people out there will perceive and judge his performance partly through these racial lenses that they have. It will be harder for him to demonstrate success for people who harbor some degree of racial prejudice. Easier perhaps among those people who have gone beyond that and are be pleased to see a black elected as president, maybe many of them blacks, themselves. And so I think the issue will continue over time. What I've seen in my lifetime has been a diminution of manifest racial prejudice over time. That doesn't mean it's gone. All it means is fewer people have it.

Mr. PACKER: Neal, can I just...

CONAN: George Packer, come on in.

Mr. PACKER: Well, I think we're being a little too negative here. I mean, I didn't hear anyone in my trip say that there are too many black people in major league baseball or even in the NBA. I mean, we've gotten used to the idea that professional athletes are a plurality or majority black. There was a time when that wasn't true, and when in fact it started riots to see black people in professional sports, and I think this is going - if Obama wins it, it will over the long haul have the same effect of making a little less salient little less important of seeing a little less first of all, the color of the president's skin. I mean, it's a huge barrier, but just as with sports, with seeing blacks on television with black movie stars. It has taken decades but it has had an undeniable effect in making race a little less of a barrier between people.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Let's go to Sarah, Sarah with us from Cincinnati.

SARAH (Caller): Hi there. I'm a political canvasser, and I talked to undecided voters all evening. Every night, I hear from about three or four people to openly tell me that race is an issue for me - for them. A couple more will use the euphemisms that you guys talked about. There's - he just frightens them or they think that he's a Muslim. My job is to relate to them, talk to them about the issues in the election, and make them feel comfortable with the idea of having a black president, and I guess we'll find out like when the election comes whether that's working, but at the end of the night, it definitely feels like we're making a lot of progress.

CONAN: All right. And George Packer again, you talked to a lot of people who were doing what Sarah does and their experiences were not dissimilar.

Mr. PACKER: Yeah, I mean, each canvasser I talked to - I went out canvassing in Columbus, I went out canvassing in Southeastern Ohio, and they all had stories. A very small minority stories were really ugly and displays of outright racism or a kind of racially-tinged fear as the caller says. But I mean, I was canvassing with a black janitor and a white home health worker in Columbus. They're both union members, and we were in a mixed working class neighborhood, and they were canvassing mostly union members which is a self-selected group.

But race never came up, and they felt comfortable together and they felt comfortable talking to the people in their houses about Obama, and at times I thought, are we living in a post-racial world? And then of course, something would come up to make me realize that we're not. But this election, for all the worries and the sort of the specter of racial fear that we're evoking today, this election has been, I think, an extraordinary leap forward for a lot of people.

One of those canvassers, the home health worker that I met in Columbus said to me that she had been afraid to go door-to-door with the black janitor. Afraid of him and afraid of what other people would think about them. And after a few weeks of canvassing, she felt that she would trust this man with her life, and she said this has been one of the great experiences of my life, and I'm sure that is being repeated across the country.

CONAN: From stories - and Sarah, thanks very much for the call. From stories to numbers, let's turn back to Paul Allan Beck and do you - have you come to a calculation or do you believe the calculation some of these polls come to as to the percentage points that race is costing Barack Obama.

Prof. BECK: I really don't know how to answer that. I think there's so many factors involved here that it's very hard to estimate. People are more sophisticated in discussing race than they used to be. Forty years ago, you might get blatant acknowledgment of racist attitudes, I think a bunch of this is subconscious now. So I think it's hard to know, you know, is there a Bradley effect to how large will it be? Well, we may see the answer to that but are there people who are reporting honestly where racial considerations had tinged their attitudes towards the candidates?

And there are a lot of other considerations to weigh as well in making that decision, but race kind of tips them in a particular direction. I think there will be some of those just as there will be some people who are very excited about the prospect of electing an African-American as president. Not just African-Americans themselves, there'll be plenty of them, of course, but white Americans will see this as a really - as an important transition election.

CONAN: The Yahoo poll that we cited earlier said as much as six percentage points of Barack Obama's favorability race be six percentage points higher if there were no white racial prejudice. But that's one poll we just heard from another pollster - we'll have to take that for what it's worth. We're talking about and the election. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And let's get the gentleman at the microphone here in Columbus.

ANDREW (Audience): My name is Andrew, and I'm really interested in this question of the medium and long-term impact of Barack Obama's candidacy and his possible presidency on perceptions of and stereotypes about African-Americans and for that matter on African-Americans' sense of their own possibilities. We know there's a lot of anecdotal evidence and research evidence to suggest that in fact, you people easily accommodate counter stereo-typical examples so lots of white Americans for example, including some who probably won't vote for Barack Obama because he's black, nevertheless, think Oprah Winfrey is great, think, you know, Michael Jordan's great, Tiger Woods et cetera, Cohen Powell certainly. At the same time this is a new category, right?

If we have a President Obama, that clearly is a different category that those occupy, so I'm wondering can you cast ahead, let assume for eight years of a successful Obama presidency. What impact might that have on perceptions of stereotypes around African-Americans?

CONAN: Because there are a couple of big leaps that we heard you would back on this before but Powell, what do you think?

Mr. POWELL: A couple of things. First of all, I mean, and to some extent, we don't know but we have reason to speculate. We had a prime minister of a Muslim country, that's a woman, we've had a couple actually, Pakistan being one. Yet no one would say as a result of that, women have achieved equality in Pakistan. There's a false thing that we do in (unintelligible). One individual is going to change the country. If we're talking about really getting to a post-racial world, we're in this continuum, it means not just changing a few attitudes, a few prejudice, it means changing the structures and institutions and the way they work and how they serve.

All institutions structures carry certain values with them. And they serve certain people, but there are others and I had time I could spell that out for you. So we're not just talking about prejudice and attitudes, we're talking about changing very serious structures and behaviors, and if we're going to do this - and I think I agree and disagree with George. It's a lot, it means a lot. It's not just symbolic. But it's not everything. We, the American people have to put our shoulders to the wheel and push this if it's going to happen. It's not going to happen on Barack's watch by himself.

And so, we don't know. I mean, we're in the middle of a game, and it's too soon to say how it will play out, but we've seen other places where you've had one person achieve an incredible thing and the country not change. That could happen to us. On the other hand, we're seeing one person inspire people, and it ushers in incredible change. So, I hope it's a latter rather than the former, but we can't say for sure.

CONAN: Now, let's see if we can...

Mr. PACKER: Neal, can I just ask Mr. Powell whether - do you think it is on the whole of better thing or not that Obama is not mentioning race? That he doesn't want to have a national conversation about race, that he is running without reference to race or, in other words, is that the kind of false consciousness that will mean we won't get anywhere with his presidency? Would it be better if his presidency were going to be more about race or do you think simply being a good president, would do more to advance equality in this country than being a good president who forces all of us to talk about race?

Mr. POWELL: Well, it's not - first of all, I think race is on the table. And in the sense sometimes avoiding it shows how much is on the table, the fact that you have to avoid talking about it, frankly, in order to address certain racial fears. In a similar way, if you look at early part of Hillary's campaign, she avoided for the most of the time talking about her gender. Toward the end of her campaign, she talked about it more.

The question is from my perspective is not that we talk about it or not because all the work deal with implicit bias shows that Americans think unconsciously about race a lot. And the only way to deal with that is to deal with it, not to avoid it. But how do you talk about it that it invites everyone into the conversation? To don't blame white people, to not beat up on white people. To don't talk about people about being racist but talk about what's happening in our country. So I think it's not do we talk about it, but how we talk about it.

CONAN: And I...

Mr. PACKER: We think the best thing that Obama can do for the cause of race and equality is to be a good president regardless of whether we talk about it.

CONAN: George Packer, thank you very much for your time today.

Mr. PACKER: Thank you.

CONAN: George Packer, staff writer for the New Yorker. His article, 'The Hardest Vote: The Disaffection of Ohio's Working Class' appears in this week's magazine. You can find a link to it on our blog. He was at our New York bureau. I'd like to thank our guests here in Ohio as well, John Powell, executive director of The Kirwin Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and Paul Allen Beck, professor of political science at Ohio State University's done polling in Ohio on voter's behavior and race. Tomorrow, we continue our Ohio Roadshow. We'll be in Athens, Ohio. In Columbus, Ohio, I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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