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.”