COLUMN: Election 2012: Race penalty or religion penalty?
Election Day is two weeks from tomorrow. Tonight is the final debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney. Soon we will know if history is made by electing the first Mormon president or by re-electing the first African American president.
It looks like it's going to be a much closer race than it was in 2008 when Obama defeated McCain. Actually, the 2008 presidential election should have been a landslide for Obama, but it wasn't. Obama got 52.9 percent of the popular vote; McCain got 45.7 percent.
Obama: the race penalty in 2008
The spread should have been wider in 2008, according to political scientists who have carefully analyzed the data, but Obama suffered a "race penalty" of 5 percentage points. This means that a considerable number of white Americans voted against Obama because he is black.
This may have been partly offset by black voters, but the estimate is that he got, at best, a 1 percentage point bump from black voters. The net effect is that Obama should have captured 56.9 percent of the popular vote. The overall conclusion is that America has not quite achieved the post-racial society that many hoped we had reached.
Romney: a religion penalty in 2012?
Now, let's look at the other side. There is prejudice in our country against Mormons, as many surveys have reported. This could result in a "religion penalty" for Romney. The size of this potential penalty is anybody's guess at this point. It is possible, however, that the two penalties will cancel out, yielding a popular vote similar to what we would expect for, say, two white male Protestant presidential candidates.
Do you think Obama will suffer a race penalty again?
Will Romney suffer a religion penalty?