When Have White Voters Ever Not Mattered?
Claims that white voters are not courted as aggressively as minority voters are baseless
Allow me to play the world’s tiniest violin for anyone bemoaning the hardships of being white, working class and male during presidential elections in America. Not only have most white voters become increasingly racist over the last four years, according to a new Associated Press poll, the men among them aren’t warming up to that “Kenyan Muslim” occupying the White House either.
It’s not for a lack of trying on Obama’s part. The president has gone deep into the Caucasian enclaves, drinking beers and touring manufacturing plants, to win over the coveted independent, undecided, or right-leaning voters in swing states like Pennsylvania and Ohio. Still, the white voter gap between Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney is more than 20 points at 37 percent to 60 percent, according to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll.
Last week, Politico suggested a Romney victory on Nov. 6 would teach Obama and the Democrats that “white voters still matter.” I’m finding it hard to believe that white voters have ever not been a priority for candidates seeking the nation’s highest office.
[ALSO READ: GOP Avoids Discussion of Race]
Before the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, the three-fifths compromise ensured that blacks didn’t tip the scales of representation in slave-holding states in the South – to the benefit of white populations in the South. Fast forward to the Democratic and Republican adoption of the Southern Strategy -- it was clear by the late 1940s that whites saw appealing to Dixie-era racism against relatively newly enfranchised blacks and other minorities as a way to keep the thumb on the scale. During the 2012 election cycle, not one week went by when Republican presidential primary candidates weren’t stoking white fears with talk of food stamps and Obama’s birth certificate. What’s more, voter ID laws and other voter suppression tactics adopted in Republican-controlled swing states around the country were found to be crafted to disproportionately affect minority voters and or members of voting blocs that historically voted for Democratic candidates.
Clearly, protecting the strength of the white vote has always been on someone’s mind.
Still, there are rumblings that Obama’s “problem with white voters” is indicative of his handicap at effectively courting them, either because of his race and or his progressive policies that turn off white conservatives. (Obama enjoyed 74 percent of the white vote in 2008. Romney, by comparison, only nabs 36 percent of support among Hispanics and almost no support from African Americans in 2012.) I’d say both are true. But it bears pointing out that white Republicans aren’t racists because they won’t support a black Democrat for president. No Democrat has won a majority of the white vote in decades.
“It's true that in a contest this close, the small and dwindling portion of Americans motivated by ethnic or racial tribalism [or the tendency to support candidates of similar background] might well make a difference in the outcome. But it would be wrong to interpret the outcome as a return to the political tribalism of the past,” wrote Ronald Bailey, for the online magazine "Reason."
If we’re ever going to be completely honest about the role race plays in this election, we have to stop pretending that politicians see courting minorities as the winning strategy. White voters matter. They’ve always mattered. And there is no evidence that indicates the Obama campaign and Democrats aren't fully aware of that fact.