Buried in the data of the recent polls is something that should force Democrats to stay focused: Mitt Romney continues to dominate among wealthy white males.
Don’t misunderstand — the fact that Romney will win white males is both unsurprising and not, in and of itself, a reason for concern. White males hold a disproportionate share of the power in America, and Mitt Romney has been running as the candidate of the possessed, the uptrodden, the people who have their servants put their pants on one leg at a time like everyone else. Of course Romney garners more support from the very people who are helped most by the status quo. Indeed, Republicans have gained the support of white men for some time, and the GOP has built its platform around the real and imagined concerns of rich white men.
If it was 1980, when America was whiter than it is now, this might be enough to doom Obama. It’s 2012, though, and Obama benefits from his strong support from traditionally disenfranchised groups. Since the vote of an African American woman counts precisely the same as the vote of a white man, those voters have propelled the president to a small-but-stable lead in the polls.
But while relatively-affluent white men are not enough to swing the election to Romney, they do help him in one significant area: they turn out.
Barack Obama’s supporters skew younger, less white, and less affluent than Romney voters do. If women, poorer voters, and non-white voters don’t get to the polls in November, a 3-point lead can quickly turn into a 2-point deficit.
“It is mission critical that women turn out in November,” said Jess McIntosh, a spokesperson for EMILY’s List, a pro-choice advocacy group. “In 2008, 10 million more women turned out to vote than men did, and we all know what happened. In 2010, those women stayed home, and we ended up with the Tea Party House.”
Turnout is Key
Republicans have been assiduously courting white men since 1968, when Richard Nixon launched the Southern Strategy, in which Republicans sought to pick off racist white Southerners disaffected by the Civil Rights Act. This strategy helped flip the “solid South” from blue to red, and helped elect Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes, not to mention the Gingrich House and the Boehner House.
The GOP’s strategy has mostly been to use social issues and resentment of women and African-Americans to drive white males to the polls. From abortion to gay rights to welfare to flag burning, the GOP strategy has been to define Democrats as being against “real America” — an America that is white and straight, where women know their place.
This strategy worked well, but it is running into a demographic wall. The country is becoming less white as years go by, and women are asserting themselves in the political and economic realms. Mitt Romney has tried gamely to use the old playbook one last time, though, and that’s keeping the race close enough that if women and non-white voters don’t turn out, he could still find a way to win.
“That’s why EMILY’s List is so focused on getting these women to the polls – we know how to communicate with them, and we have a fantastic story to tell with a record number of strong Democratic women candidates — and a President with a great record on women,” McIntosh said.
The 2012 election looks like it will be close. If turnout looks like it did in 2010, Mitt Romney will be able to win the White House on the strength of white male support. If Democrats can get turnout to resemble 2008, however, Barack Obama will win.
Image Credit: Donkey Hotey