Should Democrats Abandon White Guys?

Thomas Schaller argues that Democrats ought to simply write off the white male vote, since courting us is 1) futile and 2) requires alienating their base.

In 2004, according to New York Times exit polls, Democrat Kerry won 38 percent of the total white male vote, confirming a familiar pattern. Kerry’s share was basically the same that every Democratic presidential candidate has received since Michael Dukakis. In the four elections between 1988 and 2000, in fact, using New York Times exit poll results, the Democratic nominee won 36 percent, 37 percent, 38 percent and 36 percent, respectively, of votes cast by white men. Because white men cast between 33 and 36 percent of all votes in 2004, that means a mere 12 to 13 percentage points of Kerry’s 48 percent nationally came from white men — about one vote in four. Nevertheless, and despite running against an incumbent in the first post-Sept. 11 presidential election, Kerry still came within one state of winning the Electoral College. Four years earlier, Al Gore also came within one state of reaching the magical 270 electors, and actually won the popular vote nationally — while, like Kerry, receiving only about one-fourth of his support from white men.

[…]

[T]he white male share of the electorate continues to decline. In 1976, Jimmy Carter beat Gerald Ford while garnering what by today’s standards would be an eye-popping 47 percent of the white male vote. But in 1976, according to [Emory University political scientist Alan] Abramowitz’s math, white non-Hispanic males were 39 percent of the American electorate. (Abramowitz’s figures, based on numbers from American National Election Studies, are slightly lower than those produced by exit polling, which may oversample white males.) The white male share of the electorate, which had fallen seven percentage points between 1952 and 1976, then stayed roughly constant for 20 years, but after 1996 began dropping again. It fell to 36 percent in 2000 and 33.1 percent in 2004, and it is still falling.

Stanley Kurtz argues that Democrats “richly deserve” having lost much chance of getting the white guy vote, which he sees as the consequences of staking out policy positions seemingly designed to alienate the demographic that built the country.

Schaller’s mindset — and the Republican counterpart that seeks to build 50 percent plus one through a divide and conquer strategy — is incredibly dangerous however. In its extreme, it’s a recipe for another civil war.

To be sure, the nation was founded on the realization that a large country would have diverging interests, whether regional or economic or class based. We’ve generally managed to work as a polity, however, by having numerous overlapping interests that caused the coalitions necessary to get anything done in the legislature to constantly shift. We have, in other words, what political scientists term “cross-cutting cleavages,” which are contrasted with the very dangerous “reinforcing cleavages.”

One of the clichés of developing world politics is that “the election is a census, and the census is an election.” We don’t want that to happen here. When it does, those who lose elections see it not as a temporary ideological setback but as a threat to their culture (or, in extreme, their life). Those who lose elections are given powerful incentives to cry “foul,” calling the legitimacy of the system into question. Absent that, they’re willing to take up arms to protect their interests.

We’ve got a lot of institutional safeguards in place to make extreme outcomes unlikely here. Many of those, however, were in existence in 1860, too.

UPDATE: Coincidentally, HuffPo’s Sam Stein notes today that Fred Thompson became the fourth of the four major contenders for the Republican nomination to snub Tavis Smiley’s PBS debate on “minority issues.”

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Gender Issues, Race and Politics, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. talboito says:

    “staking out policy positions seemingly designed to alienate the demographic that built the country.”

    That seems to mean something that hopefully you don’t mean it to mean.

  2. floyd says:

    It does seem ironic to be willing to write-off 25% of the party’s voters as not worth pursuing, when for decades they were obsequious toward minorities that could supply 5% or less.

    As for a civil war,one limiting factor is the difficulty of drawing GEOGRAPHICAL boundaries this time around.

  3. Tano says:

    What a bizarre logic Schaller puts forth. 38% is a pretty poor performance, no doubt. But any approach that resembles “writing off” this constituency would merely drive that number downwards.

    Any rational political movement would try to hold what they have with any group, and expand it if possible. Perhaps one could argue that Dems should not bother to make a big effort to push that number upwards significantly, if there are more promising areas for growing their constituency, but why “write it off”?

    In the grand scheme of things, 38% is not an inconsequential number – probably amounts to 8 million or so votes in a national election.

    Methinks the Dems are not particularly interested in just giving those votes away. Seems like a pretty dumb analysis to me.

  4. floyd says:

    talboito;
    Why? are the PC thought police ready to pounce as usual with no regard for the veracity of the offender?

  5. James Joyner says:

    “staking out policy positions seemingly designed to alienate the demographic that built the country.”

    That seems to mean something that hopefully you don’t mean it to mean.

    The country was founded by descendants of Brits and Germans, mostly and, certainly by men owing to the vagaries of the time. It would be ironic, indeed, to build a governing coalition which sought to include them.

  6. Mithras says:

    Let me see if I have this straight. The percentage of white males is dropping in the population, so Joyner is arguing that if the Democrats stop expending energy trying to appeal to them … the white men will take up arms? That’s just a crazy argument.

    Also, I am not sure exactly what policies Joyner thinks Democrats will enact that will create these “reinforcing cleavages.” What policies would harm men without harming women? Or harm white men without harming non-white men?

    Crazy.

  7. Al Bee says:

    As an Anglo-American I find the term “white boy” to be derogatory and racist.

  8. Michael says:

    Mithras,
    I believe that James was merely expanding on and generalizing the opinion put forth by Schaller, and not advocating or agreeing with any of it.

    I am curious, however, to know if white males are voting against Democratic policies, or for Republican ones. It may not be that they don’t like Democratic party principles, it may be that the Democratic party doesn’t like their principles.

  9. allbetsareoff says:

    The 60-65 percent of white males that Democrats habitually lose are disproportionally Southern and Western, rural and exurban, military or ex-military, and resentful that they don’t have the advantages their fathers had over women and minorities in the workplace. Those who haven’t advanced professionally blame it on affirmative action. They will never get over it.

    The only way a Democrat can appeal to these men is to become a de facto Republican of the Zell Miller type, and doing that would lose them more votes than they would gain.

    There’s another good reason for the Dems not to court “angry white males”: Younger white men aren’t angry about the same issues. They’ve grown up in a more pluralistic society, and don’t have their elders’ sexual and ethnic hangups or expectations of advantage.

    The grievances of Gen-X and younger men will be generational and economic, and will be shared by women and nonwhites of the same age. Neither party has developed much of an edge in addressing their interests; but appeals to male resentment won’t sway many of these voters.

  10. Boyd says:

    The 60-65 percent of white males that Democrats habitually lose are disproportionally (sic) Southern and Western,

    Okay, with you so far.

    rural and exurban,

    Yes, agreed.

    military or ex-military,

    Sure.

    and resentful that they don’t have the advantages their fathers had over women and minorities in the workplace.

    Umm…no.

    Why are Caucasian males so often considered to be angry? I know quite a few, and have for many years. Not very many of them are angry — or resentful — about anything.

    Those who haven’t advanced professionally blame it on affirmative action.

    I’m scratching my head over that one. I don’t know any like that.

    They will never get over it.

    Y’know, this is starting to sound like projection.

    Younger white men aren’t angry about the same issues. They’ve grown up in a more pluralistic society, and don’t have their elders’ sexual and ethnic hangups or expectations of advantage.

    Ah, now I understand. You’re just making shit up.

    Good to know I can just ignore you, abao.

  11. James Joyner says:

    The percentage of white males is dropping in the population, so Joyner is arguing that if the Democrats stop expending energy trying to appeal to them … the white men will take up arms? That’s just a crazy argument.

    I’m not saying that happens any time soon, just that it is an extreme outcome of the notion behind the strategy.

    Also, I am not sure exactly what policies Joyner thinks Democrats will enact that will create these “reinforcing cleavages.” What policies would harm men without harming women? Or harm white men without harming non-white men?

    Well, clearly, black men and white women think they have different interests than white men given their different voting patterns.

    Affirmative action and other redistribution programs are the most obvious example.

  12. Derrick says:

    Why are Caucasian males so often considered to be angry? I know quite a few, and have for many years. Not very many of them are angry — or resentful — about anything.

    I’m not sure what your socio-economic level is Boyd but study after study for 40 years has shown that white males have been much more hostile to the changes in post-modern culture from the inclusion of blacks, women and gays. Set aside the current environment (post 90’s), white males have fought against Jim Crow, the Civil Rights movement and Affirmative Action (I’ll just concern myself with the pre-90’s when racism and sexism in hiring practices was rampant) in much higher levels of intensity than any other group.

    The fact is that, assuming that you are on a higher socio-economic ladder, relatively poorer white males are considerably angry about their status in the United States. White men in the upper-middle class and higher have never been that angry, because quite frankly they don’t feel that there way of life is under assault. For those in the middle and lower things are quite different. That’s how we get a large number of poor white males railing against welfare, while at the same time being on welfare.