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Inside Politics

Schneider: Race, gender and the Oval Office

By Bill Schneider
CNN Senior Political Analyst
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Is America ready for a female president or an African-American president? We asked, in the latest CNN poll by the Opinion Research Corporation.

Sixty percent of voters said, "A female president? No problem.'' Both men and women agree. Do Democrats see a problem? Nope. Seventy percent of Democrats say the country's ready for a female president. Perhaps they have one in mind.

How about an African-American president? A slightly higher number, 62 percent, see no problem with that either. Whites are a little more confident than blacks that the country is ready for a black president. But a majority of blacks believe the country is ready.

Can those results be trusted? Polls are not always reliable when they ask people about prejudice. As CNN's polling director, Keating Holland, noted, "Sometimes people will hear a question and give pollsters the answer that they think the pollster wants to hear.''

The question of electability may be less about prejudice in general and more about this woman and this African-American. Holland said, "Americans may be thinking about these specific people, [New York Sen.] Hillary Clinton and [Illinois Sen.] Barack Obama.''

Democratic women are more enthusiastic about Clinton than Democratic men are, but she runs first among men, too. Similarly, race is not the primary factor behind Obama's appeal. Consider the fact that Clinton does much better among black Democrats (45 percent support) than white Democrats (30 percent), while blacks and whites are almost no different in their support for Obama (16 and 14 percent).

If he does run, Obama would be the first African-American candidate for president who does not come out of the civil rights movement. Race has not been his cause.

The poll's margin of error was plus-or-minus 3 percentage points. On questions broken down by race, the margin of error was 5 percentage points. The poll involved 1,207 Americans.

If Clinton has too much political baggage, Obama may not have enough. Obama said in New Hampshire last weekend, "It is entirely legitimate for people to look at the body of my experience and the other candidates' experience and ask tough questions.''

For instance, does either senator have the military experience and national security credentials to be commander-in-chief? That question didn't matter as much for Bill Clinton in 1992 or for George W. Bush in 2000. They ran in the inter-war years, when the Cold War was over and the war on terror had not begun.

Electability may eventually become a problem for both Clinton and Obama, but that may be for reasons other than prejudice. At the moment, voters are not focused on electability because they know they don't have to make a choice yet. "It is only when the waiter actually gets to your table that you've got to make a real choice,'' Holland said. "Right now Americans are just looking at every option on the menu.''


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Sen. Barak Obama has quickly risen to the top tier of potential Democratic candidates. He has not decided if he will run in 2008, however.

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