Americans more ready for a black president than a woman?

A new poll says yes -- as if the sexist attacks on Hillary Clinton hadn't already confirmed it.

By Joan Walsh

Published April 5, 2008 10:10AM (EDT)

A poll by CNN and Essence magazine released Thursday found that Americans believe the country is more ready to elect an African-American president than a woman. Here are the numbers: 76 percent of the 2,200 polled said yes, the country is ready for a black president; only 22 percent said no. But when it came to a woman president, only 63 percent said the country was ready, and 35 percent said no. (One limit of the poll is that voters weren't asked if they would support a black or a woman president, only if they think others would.) I talked about it in my video for Current this week (text continues below):

The good news is that the vast majority of voters think the country is ready for either a woman or an African-American. But I was sad to see lower support for a woman -- though after this campaign, I wasn't surprised. I think it's clear that Hillary Clinton has suffered more sexist abuse than Barack Obama has experienced overt racism this year: men yelling "Iron my shirts" on the campaign trail; Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge hyping unflattering photos of Clinton and predicting that Americans will be repelled by the sight of a female president aging, debate moderators telling her she's just not likable, cable commentators trashing her with sexually charged analysis and statements. Remember when that John McCain supporter, a woman, asked "How do we beat the B-word?" about Hillary, and McCain and everybody in the crowd laughed? Imagine if she'd used the same kind of slur about Obama.

This poll doesn't mean that sexism is more prevalent, or troublesome, than racism in our society. I think on a day-to-day basis, when it comes to finding a job, buying a house, buying a car, getting a loan -- study after study finds that being black is a disadvantage. But at the highest levels of society, in politics, entertainment, academia and sports, Americans are ready to embrace elite black leaders -- Obama, Colin Powell, Henry Louis Gates, Tiger Woods, Oprah -- and be proud of themselves for it. If only more of them would feel the same pride in embracing a woman president.

Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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2008 Elections