Does race affect voting? Why policies and principles mean the most to voters

Abhishek Mukund

The United States has had monumental Presidents in its history. Lincoln fought to end slavery at the cost of a Civil War . Roosevelt became the longest sitting President after winning four consecutive elections. Yet, when Barack Obama, the nation’s first black President, ran and successfully won in 2008 and again in 2012, some Americans speculated that he had won because of his race. Did Obama win solely for this reason, or did the citizens elect a President whose policies and best suited the nation’s interests?

The United States Census reports an increase of nearly four million black and Hispanic voters from the 2004 election to the 2008 election, and an eight percent increase in the number of black voters ages 18-25. According to the Washington Post, black turnout was higher than White turnout in both 2008 and in 2012. Furthermore, the Washington Post boldly proclaims Mitt Romney would’ve beaten President Obama had it not been for the uptick in black turnout. Finally, CNN reported that President Obama won 93% of the black vote in 2012, down three points from his previous, slightly more dominant hold of the black vote in 2008.

Yet, not everyone’s convinced this data captures the bigger picture. Voters often claim they would never vote for a certain candidate based on race or gender, according to public affairs professor Edwin Dorn.

“Voters support candidates who ‘stand for’ something. That phrase, ‘stand for’ does not simply refer to a candidate's policy positions,” Dorn said. “It refers to a candidate's total package. Race and gender may be part of that package — or may not.”

In Dorn’s view, Obama won because of his policy and political party, not because of his race. Dorn isn’t alone in his belief. Voters are likely to lean towards candidates who reflect their political ideologies, said Rebecca Bigler, psychology and women’s and gender studies professor.

“People do show a preference for people who are the same social group and same political party,” Bigler said.

Although the statistics show a higher black turnout, Obama’s political stance and relatability earned him his victory.

In addition to political ideology and party affiliation, a candidate’s personal track record is taken into account by voters. Herman Cain was a Black GOP candidate who briefly led all candidates in the polls in 2012 until his campaign fell apart after alleged sexual misconduct charges. Cain led because of his policies, and fell apart because of the accusations against him. His race was not the most significant factor in his success.

Herman Cain led because of his policies. Ben Carson, a Black candidate running for Presidency in 2016, has gained traction because of his policies. Obama won for his policies. Despite what the statistics say, race and gender are not the defining elements of a candidate’s campaign. A candidate’s beliefs, ideals, relatability, leadership skills, and perseverance earn an elected candidate his/her place in office.

Abhishek Mukund is an undeclared sophomore. He is a guest columnist.