A new ABC News poll suggests that McCain's age influences voters far more than Obama's race. Although polls from earlier this summer indicated that a substantial number of voters would take race into account, recent polls indicate that this factor has declined in significance. 90% of voters in the ABC News poll say that they are "comfortable" with Obama's race.
The poll, however, shows that voters do take McCain's age into account. 50% of voters say that they are comfortable with McCain's age, while 49% are not. The same poll gives Obama a 52-45 lead over McCain, which could possibly mean that many Obama supporters have sided with the candidate in part due to concerns over McCain's age.
My take: People often understate their racial viewpoints in opinion polls, so observers should take that fact into account. Nevertheless, Obama has run as a "racially transcendent" candidate, and although he has mentioned race in symbolic terms ("historic" candidacy), he has basically avoided laying out a platform that addresses racial inequality. The Democratic convention stressed unity, getting rid of Bush/McCain, and diversity -- not race policy. Given the tenuous support of liberal race policy among voters, this strategy probably helped his candidacy tremendously.
Also, the media have focused extensively on covering and stigmatizing racial bias among voters which could actually have helped negate the operation of those biases against Obama. Studies show that people who harbor latent racial bigotry are more likely to act in a race-neutral manner if they confront and analyze those views. By contrast, the media failed to give much attention to gender bias until Clinton herself politicized the question. Many people in the news media, however, reacted by suggesting that Clinton was just gaming the subject. This differed from their reaction to Obama's speech on race, which he made during the height of the Reverend Wright controversy.
I have not seen much coverage at all on the issue of age discrimination. But Obama's campaign has called McCain "erratic" and "out of touch"; it also made a commercial that said he did not know how to use email, and which showed unflattering vintage footage of him. Many commentators believe these tactics sought to portray McCain as too old for the presidency.
Also, perhaps society views age as more relevant than race. The Supreme Court treats age as socially relevant and for this reason has held that age discrimination does not generally violate the constitution. Liberals on the Court, however, disagreed with that ruling. The Court, by contrast, treats race as socially irrelevant and as an improper basis for most social policy. Maybe the public agrees with this dichotomous treatment of the two subjects. Given the results of this poll, I wonder whether McCain will talk about his age in the last remaining days before the election.