Young people are not getting beyond race: People keep saying that young people are so excited to vote for Obama because they don't care about race. I say, huh? If something doesn't matter, then it can't explain behavior. But what they seem to mean is that older people do care about race--in other words, that they're racists--and their prejudice is preventing them from voting for the candidate. This appears to be a mainstream perception, but actually it reveals a hostile view of America since the General Social Survey (GSS) shows that even more than a decade ago--1996 to be exact--93% of all Americans were willing to vote for a black president. They stopped asking the question, the number was getting so high.
So, has race become less important to young whites? GSS respondents were asked how they felt about blacks. Answer choices ranged from several degrees of cool, to neutral, to a number of degrees of warm. If race doesn't matter, we should observe more neutrals over time. This is obvious vis-a-vis cool attitudes, but it might be less clear with respect to warmth. If someone says he loves blacks, then race is important to him--he has warm feelings specific to a certain race.
Let's compare 1996 and 2006--the oldest and newest years available:
Percent neutral--ages 18-25
There is no evidence here that, compared to the past, race is less significant to young whites. We can see a shift, however, toward more people with warm feelings:
Percent with warm feelings--ages 18-25
Now, it's not difficult to argue that more warmth is a good thing. Bertrand Russell wrote that love benefits both parties, while hate profits neither. But the point here is that, according to these data, a majority a decade ago did not even claim to be colorblind, and this number has not changed.
If these attitudes predict behavior, then many young people might be voting for Obama because they like him for the color of his skin, not because they have gotten beyond race.