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Does race matter in the race?

world Updated: Oct 28, 2008 00:12 IST
V Krishna
V Krishna
Hindustan Times
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So you think race will play a big role in the US presidential election? One of the leading political scientists in America disagrees.

Shanto Iyengar, director of the Political Communication Lab at Stanford University, says race will be less of a factor than most commentators anticipate in the contest between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain.

“We have done studies in which voters are presented with morphed images of Senator Obama suggesting that he is either darker or lighter,” Iyengar told the Hindustan Times.

“In February, this manipulation had a significant impact on Obama’s support: it was reduced in the darkened condition. In September, however, the exact same set of images produced no effects, suggesting that as people have become more familiar with him, the race cue is less relevant.”

The results have not been published yet.

Early on, Iyengar says, race was a significant factor and probably explained Hillary Clinton’s resurgence during the closing stages of the Democratic primary.

“It is certainly the case that McCain’s campaign has attempted to make race an issue. The images of Senator Obama presented in the McCain advertisements are darker as the campaign progresses. Yet, given the economic circumstances facing most Americans, this election is more about dollars and cents than black or white.”

So what does he make of the polls, some of which show Obama increasing his lead while others see the race tightening? Iyengar says, “My general sense of the polling is that Senator Obama has maintained a six- to eight-point lead for the past two to three weeks. I see no reason to expect this pattern to change before Election Day.”

He has a tip for those who follow surveys: look at the state polls.

Iyengar, who came to the United States from India in 1966 to pursue his studies, holds a dual appointment as Harry & Norman Chandler professor of communication and professor of political science.