Will Obama’s Changes Open Doors to Minority Candidates?
On the campaign trail, “Yes We Can” was a powerful slogan, appealing to a broad spectrum of voters of different racial backgrounds. How well has its vision and promise translated to the Oval Office? A team led by political scientist Pearl K. Ford has examined the Obama campaign’s promise of change, his administration’s progress, and the potential impact on future minority candidates.
“In the end, Obama’s administration may be judged by where his allegiance lies in the struggle between privilege and equality and the effectiveness of his presidency in ‘closing the gap’ between blacks and whites,” the researchers wrote.
Ford, Tekla A. Johnson and Angie Maxwell studied Barack Obama’s campaign strategies and voters’ expectations of his administration. The researchers asked whether the Obama administration has begun to fulfill voters’ visions and whether his presidency will open the doors to more minority candidates. The study results were published in the Journal of Black Studies.
Obama came into office after a carefully balanced and technologically sophisticated presidential campaign that spoke to voters’ beliefs that he could bring important changes.
His election was based on both prospective and retrospective factors, the researchers wrote. Prospective change refers to the hopes and expectations of voters going into the election. Voters expected Obama to stop the economic slide and restore American credibility internationally. Many supporters envisioned an Obama presidency as “the first step towards a post-racial America.”
Ford cautioned that the notion of a post-racial society is premature. There have been some advances under the Obama administration, such as the reactivation of the Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice and the confirmation of an African American as surgeon general.
Still, Ford noted, “Disparities between African Americans and whites haven’t changed, particularly with unemployment.”
Continuing disparities in jobs, health care and the criminal justice system present a challenge to future African American candidates for public office. They can benefit from the same technological advances that allowed Obama to present an unfiltered message to voters.
In conclusion, the researchers wrote, “While his election speaks to racial progress, Obama must be careful not to discount or to ignore the defining issues of structural racism, such as disparities in incarceration rates and in access to health care, that still plague America.”