A Gallup/USA Today poll of 1,006 Americans conducted by phone earlier this month tested exactly how intolerant American would-be presidential voters are prepared to admit to be to some stranger on the phone. While strenuously avoiding naming names by merely asking about generic characteristics a voter would never vote for, it found that Barack Obama (black, everybody's tolerant) moves forward with far more hope for success than do Hilary Clinton (woman, 11 percent say no way), Mitt Romney (Mormon, 24 percent), John McCain (great service to his country and all, but old—42 percent say no thanks), and Rudy Giuliani (two failed marriages, working on a third).
It’s amusing to take the poll at face value, but not appropriate. Note, for example, that thrice married Giuliani has 50 percent support among polled Republican primary voters one-on-one against ol’ man McCain, and a 41 percent overall approval rating. A robust 83 percent of Republicans in another poll say they’d be “comfortable” with him in charge. Yet this poll finds that 40 percent of self-identified conservatives wouldn't vote for a three-time groom, as wouldn't 30 percent of America at large.
No, this poll seems to mostly just mean that knee-jerk prejudice against Mormons, serial monogamists, and the old has better legs in 21st century America than prejudice against blacks. But there’s no particular reason to believe that prejudice would hold up in the face of further knowledge and context about the candidates in question.
Nor is it that those prejudices are easier to speak of than those against, for example, blacks. As Dave Weigel has pointed out here on Reason Online, despite popular belief, there is no hard electoral evidence that Americans harbor a deep aversion to voting for a black candidate that they won’t cop to (the so-called "Wilder Effect"). And Joe Lieberman, take note: a nation supposedly hungry for bipartisanship just might want a man who effortlessly straddles the worst of two parties. Also, don’t sweat the Jewish stuff—only 8 percent of us will refuse to vote for you for that reason.
One big indication that some of the categories in the poll did not arise from pure scientific curiosity, independent of announced candidates, is checking out the set of prejudice-testing questions Gallup has been using since 1937. As of 1967, it only included “woman/black/Catholic/Jewish/Mormon.” The thrice-married question is clearly aimed at Rudy with extreme prejudice—one wonders to whom, if anyone, are the “homosexual” (43 say no way) and “atheist” (paging Richard Dawkins: 53 percent refuse to refuse to believe) questions in the latest prejudice poll meant to refer? Hell if I know, but I bet we can count on all the non-homosexual/non-atheist candidates to make sure we we know with whom they're sleeping and to whom they pray.
While this particular poll simply isn’t to be taken seriously, the larger idea of prodding Americans on what they refuse to tolerate from a president has great promise.
Grumpuses with a sense that “running for president” constitutes sufficient reason to refuse on principle to vote for someone ought to delight in this sort of polling, silly as it might seem: think of the possibilities in magnifying and hitting home in as many voters as possible good reasons to refuse to vote for any and all of them. Given enough information, surely we can all find something to hate about every single one of them. (I hope I’m not overestimating my fellow Americans.)
I’d be curious to hear how many of my countrymen would refuse to vote for candidates based on some substantive issues. My listing of these particular items neither means that I think the number would be significant, or even ought to be significant, nor does it mean I don’t. It means that these are some things I think it would be more valuable for voters to have on their minds about candidates than age, marital status, or religion. So, would Americans vote for:
*Someone who voted to get us into a war that most Americans now see as a mistake? (Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Joe Biden, John McCain, Tom Tancredo, Christopher Dodd, Chuck Hagel, among the more prominent).
*Someone who intends to make a push for government-sponsored universal health care one of his main concerns? (John Edwards, who wants to create a system for everyone “similar to Medicare) or A Republican candidate who instituted an insurance purchase mandate? (Mitt Romney, who is, by the way, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.)
*Someone who completely fouled up their one previous huge, national policy responsibility? (Hillary Clinton and our last brush with national health care.)
*Someone who has been a previous presidential candidate, but with a third party? (Ron Paul, 1988 Libertarian Party candidate).
*A Republican who supported public funding for abortion? (Rudy Giuliani)
*A governor who presided over general funds increases of over 23 percent—outstripping inflation and population growth by 5 percent—from 2004-06? (Bill Richardson.)
*Someone who believes and fervently acts on the belief that Americans should not be free to publicly express their opinions and feelings about presidential candidates free of complicated government interference? (John McCain.)