Is the US more sexist or racist

April 1st, 2007

The US presidential nomination season seems to be starting really early this year. Mainly due, of course, to the fact that over half the primaries (by votes) will happen by the first week of February.

So far the race on the Democrat side is down to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Neither of them is a ‘typical’ candidate – one is a woman, and one is black. Which has led me to speculate a few times about which one of those two has the smallest disadvantage. Or, to put it another way, is the United States more sexist or more racist?

A friend of mine pointed out another good way of thinking about it on these lines – which Star Trek captain was accepted more easily? The black captain (Sisko, in Deep Space 9), or the female captain (Janeway, in Voyager). For those of you who aren’t Star Trek nerds, the answer is that the black captain was far less controversial at the time.

To be more scientific, a recent Gallup poll found that women and african americans were equally palatable (around 60%) as a president. Interestingly, though, Republican voters were far more likely to vote for an african american than a woman (67 to 54). And another recent poll looking at the head-to-head support of Clinton and Obama is also interesting: Obama’s race was a reason to prefer Clinton for only 2 per cent of those who chose Clinton over Obama, but 7 per cent of those who chose Obama over Clinton mentioned her gender as a reason.

My personal guess is that the sexism overrides the racism, and so I expect that Obama will win the nomination. But it’ll be an interesting race to follow.