Monday, September 17, 2007

Should Democrats Forget About White Male Voters?

"Yes", says Tom Schaller, an associate professor of political science at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County. Schaller has long since argued that Democrats can make strong electoral gains without pandering to what has been, for almost a generation, the backbone of the Republican majority. Schaller points out that the changing demographics of the country tend to trend in favor of the Democrats:
But the underlying reason may be demographics. In 1952, according to calculations performed by Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz for Salon, white males were nearly half the American electorate. Thanks to the recent growth in the Latino population, however, the white male share is now dropping about a percentage point a year, accelerating a decline that began with the increased enfranchisement of African-Americans in the civil rights era. In next year's election, white males may account for fewer than one out of three voters. Bubba is no longer a kingmaker.

This is not a new argument and it has been advanced at length by John Judis of The New Republic Ruy Teixeria of the Center of American Progress made in their 2002 book, The Emerging Democratic Majority.

Digging further into the matter, Schaller also points out that the dominance of the African American vote by Democrats has effectively neutralized the white male vote in the Republican party:
Yet centrist Democrats continue to urge the party to find new ways to lure white male voters back into the fold. Bill Galston, former domestic policy advisor to Bill Clinton and one of Washington's sharpest analysts, is a proponent of a Democratic reinvestment in white male voters. "Today, white males form about 39 percent of the electorate," Galston wrote in Blueprint, the monthly magazine of the Democratic Leadership Council, in the summer following the 2000 election. "The Republican margin of 20 to 25 percentage points among white males thus translates into an edge of between 8 percent and 10 percent of the entire electorate. By comparison, African-Americans form 10 percent of the electorate, and the Democrats' 80-point margin in this group translates into an eight-percent edge in the electorate as a whole. Republican strength among white men more than offsets Democrats' dominance of the African-American vote."

That's one way to look at it. But Galston's own math reveals an obvious alternative view, namely, that Democrats are able to neutralize their white male voter problem with votes from African-Americans -- even though the latter group is only about one-third the size of the former. While Galston was right in 2000 about the "more than offsets" effect of white male votes relative to black votes, by 2004 the share of all votes cast by white men had shrunk by 3 percent while the share cast by African-American voters has increased by 2 percent; today, the black vote fully compensates for the Democrats' deficit among white men.

Schaller goes on to note that if African Americans continue to vote as they have and inroads are made with white women and other minorities (especially Latinos), that Democrats can forgo their efforts at attracting southern white males. And, in the end, that might be a good thing, because Democrats would more than likely be wasting their efforts:
So should Democrats really be all that worried about Bubba? After snubbing him during primary season, should they revert to form during the general election, and begin their familiar, unrequited quest for his affections? Republican pollster Whit Ayres has a clear preference. "I would dearly love for the Democrats to spend millions of dollars trying to persuade NASCAR fans to vote for the Democrats," Ayres chirped last summer. "They tend to be disproportionately southern, disproportionately white and disproportionately male, which pretty well defines the core of the Republican Party." In other words, it's a waste of time and resources for the Democrats to pursue them -- a classic sucker's bet.

I'm slightly convinced by this line of thinking. I don't think it makes sense to totally forget about southern white males, but, at the same time, I'm not sure what kind of outreach would persuade that particular cohort to come back into the Democratic fold. The scenario I envision would include some continual combination of our awful policies in Iraq (rural whites are carrying a heavy load in our armed services at the moment) and the Democrats perhaps getting some kind of universal health care plan passed, coupled with a real effort at reducing our foreign debt/dependency on oil. Even then, I'm not sure it would pry them loose, mostly because of the yawning gap on social issues, but it's still interesting food for thought.

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