(CNN) — While the issue of race may be front and center this election cycle, a new poll suggests that Americans’ racial attitudes may have little overall impact on Sen. Barack Obama’s historic candidacy.
An ABC/Washington Post poll conducted June 12-15 indicates that roughly three in ten Americans express “less racially sensitive views,” such as having some feelings of prejudice or generally believing that African-Americans in their communities do not experience discrimination. Sen. John McCain holds a 26-point advantage over Obama with this group of voters.
Of the 32 percent of white voters who admit experiencing feelings of racial prejudice, 31 percent think Obama would “do too much” for African-Americans if he is elected president.
Among the roughly 2 in 10 white voters with “high racial sensitivity,” however, Obama leads McCain by 19 percentage points. (This group of voters is most likely, among other things, to have interracial friendships and/or believe that African-Americans experience discrimination.) Among white voters with a “medium” level of racial sensitivity, McCain leads Obama 18 points.
The overall result? McCain is favored among all white Americans by 12 points (51 to 39 percent). According to CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider, McCain’s edge among white voters is consistent with how well Republicans have done in several of the most recent presidential elections.
In 2000, Al Gore lost white voters by 12 points. In 2004, George W. Bush had a 17-point advantage over John Kerry among whites.
Schneider notes that, if Obama is going to win in November, he will most likely have to do as well as Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton did among white voters.
In 1976, Carter defeated then-President Gerald Ford in part by only losing the white vote by five points. In 1992, Bill Clinton lost the white vote to George H.W. Bush by only one point.
The poll, conducted by telephone with 1,125 adults for a sampling error of plus or minus three points, found that while the overall prevalence of prejudice hasn’t changed much in recent years, Obama’s candidacy has improved voters’ outlook for the future of race relations.
60 percent of African-Americans and 38 percent of whites believe that Obama’s candidacy will help heal the country’s racial divide.