The presidential campaigns of Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D- Ill.) could learn a lesson about their chances to win the nation’s highest office from Proposal 2, last fall’s ballot proposal that banned affirmative action in Michigan public institutions.

Voters passed Proposal 2 with a comfortable 16-point margin, but before the election most pollsters were forecasting a tight finish or even a resounding defeat for the proposal. The Detroit Free Press released polls days before the election that showed 49 percent of voters against the ballot initiative, 39 percent for it and the other 12 percent undecided.

One pollster, though, forecasted the results correctly. Mark Grebner, founder of the Lansing-based Practical Political Consulting, got it right. He predicted Proposal 2 would pass with 60 or more percent. It passed with 58 percent.

Grebner did one thing differently than the other pollsters. He understands the fallibility of phone polls, especially when it comes to issues of race. When pollsters called potential voters and asked them whether they would vote yes or no on Proposal 2, the voters heard a somewhat different question: Are you racist? The respondents, who had heard the anti-affirmative action ballot proposal equated with racism many times, answered: No, I’m not racist; of course I’ll vote no on 2.

In order to give people the anonymity of the ballot box, where there’s no one to judge whether you’re racist or not, Grebner mailed respondents dummy ballots. His results were much closer to reality than the other pollsters’.

Knowing that, it’s difficult not to be skeptical of the recent Newsweek poll that reported 92 percent of respondents say they would vote for a black candidate and 86 percent say they would vote for a female candidate. That poll was conducted by phone. In light of the Proposal 2 forecasts, it doesn’t seem to be as promising for Obama and Clinton as some would like you to believe.

In the same pool, respondents were asked whether the country is ready for a black president. Only 59 percent said yes to that. They were also asked whether America is ready for a female president. Only 58 percent said yes to that. It’s not surprising that voters assigned racism and sexism to their fellow Americans but claimed they were less bigoted when asked by a live human being over a phone.

It’s scary to think what those numbers mean to the campaigns of Obama and Clinton, who are certainly both viable candidates. It’s even more frightening to think what they mean for a possible Clinton-Obama ticket, which many Democratic voters seem to be clamoring for.

Most disturbing of all, however, is what these numbers say about the hidden racism still alive and well in America.

Karl Stampfl is an RC senior and the Daily’s fall/winter editor in chief.

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