Fri, Feb 01, 2008 - Page 9 News List

Who's black and female and how do they vote?

Who's black and female and how do they vote? These questions have taken on greater importance ahead of this Tuesday's primaries

By Sam Roberts  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

ILLUSTRATION: MOUNTAIN PEOPLE

In the Democratic presidential primary next Tuesday, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton appears to have an advantage in New York City: Among enrolled Democrats, women outnumber men by about half a million, or 50 percent.

But New York's political calculus can be more complicated than that. Some of the biggest gender gaps in enrollment are in congressional districts with largely black populations.

"It's not just gender," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. Young women as well as black women "will be voting for Barack Obama," he said.

In New York, though, black women generally account for a smaller share of the Democratic primary electorate than they did on Saturday in South Carolina, where they helped propel Obama to a landslide victory.

And in New York, because Obama focused on fielding full delegate slates in all 29 congressional districts -- a mission his supporters accomplished -- his campaign had less time to register young people and blacks, who have voted for him disproportionately in earlier primaries.

In marked contrast to 1984 and 1988, when Jesse Jackson's supporters enrolled some 150,000 new voters before the New York presidential primary, fewer than 30,000 have been added to the rolls in New York City since Nov. 1.

Of the 5.3 million Democrats eligible to vote in New York state next Tuesday, about 2.6 million live in the city. Of those, more than 1 million are men and 1.5 million are women, a much wider gender gap than exists elsewhere in the state.

In New York, some black women said they found the historic circumstances of this year's Democratic primary campaign to be liberating.

"I'm freed from having to make my choice along gender or racial lines," said Binta Brown, a Manhattan lawyer and Clinton supporter.

"It allows me, and a lot of other women, to look at who these people are and what they have to offer this country. To me, it's a no-brainer," she said.

Joyce Johnson, the state field director of the Obama campaign, admits that some black women feel pulled in both directions.

"Hillary is the woman in front of us who has a chance," she said, "but beyond race and gender, there is something that has captured this country, and that something is Barack Obama."

A statewide WNBC/Marist Poll released last week showed Clinton leading among all likely voters, 48 percent to 32 percent. She was ahead among all women, 51 percent to 31 percent.

Obama was leading among black likely voters, though, 67 percent to 26 percent, and among black women by a smaller but still commanding margin, 57 percent to 31 percent. And 12 percent of black women said they were still undecided, a higher proportion than among most other groups.

Sex and race are by no means unambiguous predictors of whom New Yorkers will support, although in a number of early primaries women have voted by lopsided margins for Clinton and blacks for Obama.

A test of how black women reconcile divided loyalties came on Saturday in South Carolina, where black women made up 35 percent of the voters. Obama received the support of 78 percent of black women, compared with 80 percent of black men, according to exit polls conducted by Edison/Mitofsky for the National Election Pool of television networks and The Associated Press.

Clinton was supported by about three in 10 women overall, the South Carolina exit polls indicated, including four in 10 white women and two in 10 black women. In the New Hampshire primary, where the vast majority of voters are white, Clinton won 46 percent of female voters and Obama 34 percent.

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