Election 2008: Your must-read on the white male swing vote [Karl]
Having written on working-class white men as a swing vote, with related posts on white support for Hillary Clinton and white male support for Barack Obama, I highly recommend a piece by David Paul Kuhn at the Huffington Post, “White Men Seen All Wrong.”Ã‚Â The lede:
Washington analysts are beginning to notice a curious fact of the Democratic race. In a primary contest between the first black or female nominee, white men are the critical swing vote. Yet despite white males still disproportionately representing us in politics, we still misunderstand them as voters.
There remains a chasm between our conception of the powerful executive and the reality of the everyman. Our culture continues to define the typical white man more for his vice than virtue. The perception of the “angry white male” has not left us. Many still remain apprehensive to discuss white men as a constituency. They are, after all, supposed to be the reason we have to focus on constituencies…
Kuhn then proceeds to briskly shatter a number of myths about the white male vote, with implications for both the Democratic primary campaign and the general election.
KuhnÃ‚Â notes that for all of the media talk about whether white men have a problem with Clinton or Obama, white men have been the most willing to shift between the two candidates.Ã‚Â His analysis is consistent with my view that Clinton’s working-class white support was vulnerable to erosion as low-information voters tuned into the campaign, with white men being the easier target for Obama inasmuch as they are not as emotionally invested in electing the first woman president.Ã‚Â Kuhn also suggests,Ã‚Â based on data for the white male vote from the 2004 general election, that Clinton’s best hope of holding onto those voters was to focus on the economy, as I have also suggested.
Another myth shattered is the one spread by columnists like Paul Krugman and Nation editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel, that only Southern white men left the Democratic Party in the past few decades:
Between 1960 and 2004, Democrats lost 12 percent of the non-Southern white men and 17 percent of white men in the South. For once and for all: the Democratic decline was not merely due to the “Southern Flip.”
It is also a myth that Bill Clinton won many of them back to the Democratic Party in 1992:
Exit polls actually show that in 1992 Bill Clinton won essentially the same portion of white men as Michael Dukakis in 1988. It was Ross Perot who siphoned off these men, as well as a lesser portion of white women, and undid George H.W. Bush.
I might take slight issue here, insofar as political scientists still debate what the 1992 election would have looked like absent Perot, e.g., how many Perot voters would have stayed home and who would have been the second choice of those who did not.Ã‚Â However, the example still supportsÃ‚Â Kuhn’s general point about the white male swing vote.Ã‚Â Republicans who lose that vote lose elections.
Regarding the general election, Kuhn writes:
That Obama has proven more capable of winning white men of late, particularly independents, is germane to the general election ahead. Overwhelmingly, the voters who left the Democratic Party in the past half century are white working and middle class men. The outcome of the 2008 presidential race will depend on whether Democrats can win a portion of these men back.
This is particularly true of white male independent voters, who both Republican pollster Kellyanne ConwayÃ‚Â and Obama pollster Cornell BelcherÃ‚Â see as a key demographic.Ã‚Â
Kuhn further looks at the white male vote from the 2004 election, describing differences with implications for 2008:
Consider when 2004 voters were asked what issue mattered most in deciding whom to support. White men who voted Republican said they supported the candidate who “has clear stands on the issues” (30 percent), is a “strong leader” (31 percent), or is “honest and trustworthy” (18 percent). This is why I emphasize in my book that “grit” is the value underlying all values politics. This is especially true for the white men who Democrats lost.
Meanwhile, of those white men who voted for John Kerry: five percent valued that their candidate was a “strong leader,” 10 percent valued most that he had “clear stands on the issues,” and nine percent said is “honest and trustworthy.” White men, like white women, are not one monolith. Yet in the general election, the patterns shared by all those white men who left Democrats will have to be considered by the political left.
Those white males who supported Kerry most valued the personal qualities of a candidate who “will bring about needed change” (47 percent), is intelligent (17 percent), and “cares about people like me” (13 percent). That “change” ranked so high on the list explains Obama’s appeal, at least in part.
Conversely, I would suggest it is the “grit” Kuhn identifies that explains much of McCain’s appeal.Ã‚Â It appears to match up with the attitudes about, change, honesty, etc. that turned up in the January Pew poll.
The newly-released February Pew poll has head-to-head match-up questions that also appear to match up well with the above analyses — and are roughly similar in their internals to the Fox and L.A. Times polls previously discussed here.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â In these three polls, there is a consistent pattern of McCain doing better with Democrats against Obama than he would against Clinton.Ã‚Â The new Pew poll sheds some light here:
One-in-five white Democrats (20%) say that they will vote for McCain over Obama, double the percentage who say they would switch sides in a Clinton-McCain matchup (10%). Roughly the same number of Democrats age 65 and older say they will vote for McCain if Obama is the party’s choice (22%). Obama also suffers more defections among lower income and less educated Democratic voters than does Clinton.
In addition, female Democrats look at the race differently depending on the matchup. While 93% of women in the party say they would vote for Clinton over McCain, just 79% say they would support Obama over McCain.
A quarter of Democrats (25%) who back Clinton for the nomination say they would favor McCain in a general election test against Obama.
Given what is known about the demographics that have been supporting Clinton, and Obama’s overwhelming popularity with black voters,Ã‚Â it could be hypothesized thatÃ‚Â the white Democrats who would support McCain over ObamaÃ‚Â tend to beÃ‚Â women and working-class white men.
More broadly, while we do not get the data necessary to isolate white men to the degree needed for solid conclusions, the margin of Obama’s lead in the new PewÃ‚Â poll (still about at the margin of error) is likely attributable to hisÃ‚Â splitting the male vote — both overall and among independents.Ã‚Â Making the modest assumption that Obama does very well with the black male vote in most polls, the difference between the McCain lead in the L.A. Times poll and the Obama lead in the new Pew poll is probably attributable to the sample of white men (women break for Obama in both polls).Ã‚Â Ã‚Â The margin of error when addressing these sub-groups isÃ‚Â large enoughÃ‚Â that the most anyone can say is that the swing white male remains up for grabs as the party nominees are being selected.