Tuesday, May 27, 2008

De-mystiftying the white working-class vote

In case you missed it over the weekend the New York Times decided to engage in a little bit of journalism on the issue of the white working-class vote and the Presidential election. The conventional wisdom this election cycle appears to be that Barack Obama does worse amongst white working-class voters than Hillary Clinton. This is sort of true. The meme being pushed by the Clintonites and swallowed by many in the punditocracy is that because of this Obama is at a significant disadvantage in the general election and that without these voters he cannot win the election.

The Times decided to ask an actual political scientist who has familiarity with the issue what he thought. Ruy Teixeira is a well known political scientist in liberal circles, his book "The Emerging Democratic Majority" has begun to appear quite prophetic in recent election cycles. More importantly for this discussion he has recently published a book on the issue of white working-class voters and why they still matter.

So what is Teixeira's analysis of the current race and the importance of the white working-class vote? Obama is right on track and Hillary's electability arguments do not sustain themselves when held up to scrutiny.

But Mr. Teixeira, who is not backing either candidate, does not buy that argument. He dismisses intraparty contests as “pretty poor evidence” of whether Mr. Obama, as the Democratic nominee, could attract the blue-collar support he would need against Senator John McCain, the presumed Republican nominee.

No Majority Needed

And how much blue-collar support would Mr. Obama need? Not a majority, said Mr. Teixeira. Though blue-collar Democrats once represented a centerpiece of the New Deal coalition, they have shrunk as a proportion of the information age-economy and as a proportion of the Democratic base...

Mr. Teixeira suggests that Mr. Obama can win the presidency if he comes within 10 to 12 percentage points of Mr. McCain with these voters, as Democratic candidates for the House did in the 2006 midterm election.

In recent national polls, that is exactly what Mr. Obama is doing.

There is a tick amongst Democrats who were involved in politics in the late 70's to obsess over "Reagan Democrats" and that obsession is what Hillary is exploiting with her appeals to electability and the white working-class vote. This is silly of course. Reagan was elected nearly 30 years ago. Those who were called Reagan Democrats and who are still voting for Republican's are solidly Republican and will not be returning to the Democratic fold - ever. Targeting electoral strategy based on a demographic maps of nearly three decades ago is nonsensical. The nation is a far different place now than it was in 1980 or even 1984, fighting the battles of 30 years ago is a certain loser.

Instead of focusing on capturing a very narrow win in the electoral college based on decades old coalitions Obama gives the Democratic Party an opportunity for a new realignment and an expansion of the electoral map.

No comments: