Experts weigh race, gender as key factors in '08 Democratic outcome

WALTHAM, Mass. -- With the Republican nomination process unofficially over, analysts monitoring the presidential race at Brandeis University agreed the battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is still too close to call and may well hinge on issues pertaining to race and gender.

“This discussion of race and gender is circular,” said Brandeis Politics Professor Jill Greenlee. “You hear the candidates say it’s not about race and gender, and on the other hand you hear them say that this is a historical election.”

“It should be difficult to win the Democratic nomination while also losing the female and Hispanic vote,” Professor Mingus Mapps said of Obama’s campaign.

With gender factored into recent primary and caucus voting patterns, Mapps said that Clinton won the female vote, while Obama consistently faired better among men. On matters of race he found that Obama overwhelmingly beat Clinton among black voters, but did not dominate among Hispanic voters.

Mapps, professor of African and Afro-American studies and politics, joined Greenlee and Brandeis Politics Professor Daniel Kryder for a Feb. 7 roundtable discussion at the university.

Using data from exit polling and other sources, Mapps said that race and gender are still central to Democratic Party politics. Decades ago, he said, men voted more than women but, over time, women have become much more engaged in electoral politics and are pushing toward the point of wielding more control in Democratic contests.

While the results thus far may mean voters are casting ballots along lines of gender and race, Kryder doesn’t see either candidate particularly reaching out to women or minority voters on the campaign trail. In fact, he said both candidates are hybrids in terms of their race and gender. “I think in general they’re running away from their identities,” he said, later adding that Clinton is running as a “political hardball player” – traits generally associated with male candidates.

Greenlee said she is frequently asked if women are automatically voting for Clinton because Clinton’s a woman. She said that while Clinton’s life experience may not resonate with a majority of voters, her focus on the roles of mother and the workingwoman does. “Women who are different from her do identify with these roles,” she said, regardless of her otherwise aggressive style.
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