Ageism Trumped Racism: Exit Polls

John McCain’s age hurt him far more than Barack Obama’s race, the exit polls show.

Race played less of a role in the presidential election than age, exit polls showed Tuesday.
Voters line up to cast their ballots in Henderson, Nevada, on Tuesday morning.

While Barack Obama would be the nation’s first black president, John McCain would be the oldest person ever elected to the nation’s highest office. And twice as many of those polled Tuesday said age was an important factor in their vote as those who said race was.

Among those factoring age into their vote, 78 percent went for Obama to 21 percent for McCain, exit polls showed.

Those who said race was an important factor voted 55 percent to 44 percent in favor of Barack Obama. But Obama also was the winner by a similar margin among those who said race was not important, “which suggests that race was not a decisive factor in this election,” CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider said.

Indeed, as I’m speculated before, it seems that race mattered more in increasing black turnout than in anti-black backlash.

As noted nearly two years ago in my post “Black President More Likely than Mormon or Atheist,” only five percent of Americans would admit that they would refuse to vote for a black man, compared to a whopping 42 percent who said they wouldn’t vote for a 72-year-old.  While people react differently to a generic candidate than an actual one, McCain’s age was certainly one among many factors that cost him the election tonight.

As an aside, while I’ve harped on the unreliability of exit polls all day, I’ve done it in the context of projecting election results.  Properly conducted, they’re superb at assessing why people voted as they did.

FILED UNDER: 2008 Election, Public Opinion Polls, Race and Politics, US Politics, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. M1EK says:

    It doesn’t have to be ageism. It’s a very different calculus when you have to decide whether you can vote for a 72-year-old who has had a major cancer scare AND has a vice president who is so odiously anti-intellectual and incurious.

  2. So voting for a person because they’re Black isn’t racism? How?