LOS ANGELES – Good news. Americans don’t hate women and blacks anymore. It’s white men who are the problem, at least if they’re old, Mormon, or much-married and are running for president, as the three Republican front runners are.
People may be lying to the pollsters about how much they trust women and blacks (overstating in the interest of political correctness their willingness to vote for one), but why would they lie to sound politically incorrect about Mormons, 72-year-olds, and the twice-divorced, if those obstacles weren’t real?
What’s striking is not the absence of race and gender bias -- you probably have to dig for that -- but the openness about anti-Mormon bias, along with ageism and adherence to family values, that loom large as voting issues.
If a recent Gallup poll is right, the real question in this presidential contest is not the much-asked, “Is America ready for a woman president?” or “Is America ready for a black president?"
No, it’s whether we’re ready for a white man who’s old, or Mormon, or much-married. In the Gallup poll conducted between Feb. 9-11, voters were asked if they would be willing to cast their votes for a "generally well-qualified" candidate with the following characterisitics. Their responses were as follows: Black 94 percent; Jewish 92 percent; A woman 88 percent; Hispanic 87 percent; Mormon 72 percent; Married for third time 67 percent; 72 years of age 57 percent; A homosexual 55 percent; An atheist 45 percent.
There are two surprising elements of these results. One is how little bias there appears to be against Blacks, Jews, women and Hispanics. Is it really true that we are that color-blind and gender-blind when it comes to voting for the highest office in the land? Has anti-Semitism faded so far? Or could it be that the politically correct answer to these questions is so clearly a “yes” that people will at least keep their biases to themselves?
Generally, in ferreting out bias against women, the best way to ask the question is not to inquire about the voter’s own perspective, but to ask if he knows “other people” or has “friends” or “neighbors” who would not vote for a woman president.
Of course you’re not biased, but what about your friends? Ask the question that way and support for a woman president drops substantially. Similarly, we have plenty of experience with black candidates underperforming at the ballot box compared to their standing in pre-election polls; after the collapse of former Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder’s campaign for Senate and former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley for governor, many pro’s adopted an informal rule of thumb that a black candidate had to be ahead by at least 10 points going into election day if he expected to win, to make up for those who would only express their bias in the privacy of the voting booth.
But even adding 10 more points to the scores for women and blacks, it’s still easier to face bias based on race or gender than to walk in the shoes of the Republican front-runners. What is most striking about the results is how open people are about expressing their distrust of Mormons, their doubts about age, and the potential hostility to someone who is on a third marriage.
Maybe they will forgive in the person what they find so offensive in the abstract, but they don’t start out there. Anti-Mormon sentiment infects between one in three and one in four Americans, to the point that it is a disqualification for high office. And those are the people willing to admit it.
Being 72 years old is a bigger negative not only than being a woman, but even being Hillary Clinton; you start out with more than four in 10 voters against you. That doesn’t make winning easy.
And as for Rudy, the fact that so many people might care about his marital history certainly complicates matters when the key question about him, for many Republicans, is already whether he is conservative enough. In other words, bias is real, and the white men in the race had best recognize it sooner rather than later.
Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was previously Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and was the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.
Estrich's books include the just published “Soulless,” “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” “How to Get Into Law School,” “Sex & Power,” “Real Rape,” “Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System,” and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women.”
She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the “Blue Streak” column for foxnews.com.