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30 Jun, 2008 01:22

Is race still an issue for U.S. voters?

In Orlando, Florida, around 60 vehicles have been found spray-painted with hate messages directed at the U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Police are investigating the incident. Meanwhile, the issue of the presidential candidate's colou

He may be running on a bill of political change, but Barack Obama could be facing the need to change deep-set prejudices about his candidacy. While the Democratic camp shows off a united front, the issue of race is already proving divisive among its voters. However, the race issue has spread through the U.S., even reaching its Russian-speaking communities.

Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are now trying to show voters they're now on the same side. But the newfound camaraderie will not guarantee votes from all Democrats. Clinton supporters like Marina Kovalyova, President of New York's Russian American Foundation, plans on voting Republican this November.

“I don't think people are crazy about McCain or know much about him, but they feel more comfortable with him,” believes Marina.

As President of New York's Russian American Foundation, Kovalyova rallied a large group of support behind Senator Clinton during the primaries.

With Obama now the presumptive Democratic nominee, she says many of New York's estimated 500,000 Russian-speaking voters are plan to cross party lines this autumn. The move has brought question of racism to light.

“It is not because he's black, but definitely because the community does not believe in his strong feelings for Judaism, for Israel and all these topics,” says Marina Kovalyov.

In Brooklyn's Brighton Beach, most of the predominantly Russian-speaking community are staunch Clinton supporters, who say Obama's inexperience is why they're voting for Senator John McCain.

“Barack Obama seems to be a bit inexperienced when it comes to foreign policy and I also believe he has very little idea of what's going on in Russia – or even cares,” says Anton Krylov, a Russian-American voter.

Democratic district leader Mark Davidovich says, unlike Clinton, Obama doesn't do anything for Israel.

In fact, Obama has repeatedly voiced his support for Israel and his position on other issues like the economy and healthcare remains very similar to Senator Clinton's.

Yale Psychology Professor Jack Dovidio claims 80 per cent of Americans have unconscious biases that affect behavior like voting.

“It's because they're socialised into a society that has racist traditions. They have grown up in a society that's segregated, in a society where whites have positions and traditions that blacks don't have,” he says.

Recent polls show three in ten Americans admit to feelings of racial prejudice. So is race a factor for these Russian-speaking voters?

“I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of Russians will consider race. Not me, but I wouldn't be surprised,” says Anton Krylov.

“I don't think the colour of skin is important for Russians,” says Mark Davidovich.

Nearly 50 years ago another young Democratic presidential candidate was under similar scrutiny for his religion. Many Americans feared John F Kennedy's Catholic faith would prevent him from preserving and defending the U.S. constitution.

Reaching the White House Kennedy made history as the first and, so far, only Roman Catholic U.S. president. But the victory also changed long-held prejudices among many American voters.