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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

White Male Dems An Endangered Species?

Thomas F. Schaller has a provocatively titled Salon post “So Long White Boy,” in which he all but urges Democrats to write off the white male voter, or as the article subtitle asks “Could 2008 be the year that Democrats finally admit an old sweetheart is never coming back, and stop pandering to the white male voter?” Schaller trots out some interesting numbers to bolster his argument, including:

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.

Schaller concedes that Dems are still “competitive” among white women voters and that unionized white male voters are still pro-Democratic. He compares demographic trends and voting patterns for white male and African American voters and concludes:

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….today, the black vote fully compensates for the Democrats’ deficit among white men.

Schaller doesn’t say anything about what possible effect discontent over the Iraq war, GOP scandals or other issues may have on white male votes in ’08. And Democratic presidential candidates may be less eager than he to write off one out of four of their voters. But it’s an important article in terms of political strategy, and one which merits the attention of Dems concerned about the Party’s future.

3 comments on “White Male Dems An Endangered Species?

  1. southernpolitics on

    Schaller’s article is certainly provocative and his numbers are indeed “interesting.” In fact, one might say that this article shows the same attention to fact as his previous work. This is, after all, the same writer who stated on page 168 of his book “Whistling Past Dixe” that Mike Easley of North Carolina would face a tough re-election in 2008. Certainly true when one considers that re-election is impossible when Easley is term-limited from running again.
    One of the interesting things about this article is that (different from his previous work) Schaller has expanded his target from the South (generally) and southern white males (particularly) to white males (generally). Of course, he does seem to make the assumption that most of “the down-home, blue-collar, white male voter” are Southern (or rural: he talks about Hillary Clinton dropping her G’s when speaking to southern or rural audiences).
    Schaller does seem to still have his obsession with NASCAR — perhaps its a Schallersque code word for “southern.” I live in Charlotte, North Carolina (arguably the heart of NASCAR). I have never gone to a NASCAR race and have absolutely no interest in ever going to one.I do know this: the NASCAR marketing people equal or surpass any political demographic analysts around. That’s why I find it interesting that NASCAR moving from southern tracks to Schaller’s precious west and north.
    In the Salon article, Schaller discusses Bob Graham’s sponsorship of a NASCAR team and its lack of effectiveness. He doesn’t mention Mark Warner’s NASCAR sponsorship in his governor’s race (although he does talk about it in other writings). He tries to have it both ways: NASCAR is the symbol of why Graham failed, but didn’t have anything to do with Warner’s success.
    He doesn’t look at the difference in the nature of the races. Nobody knew who Mark Warner was. The use of NASCAR introduced him to Virginia’s voters as somebody who respected their history and didn’t mock who they are. Bob Graham was a known entity: NASCAR didn’t bring him anything.
    But back to Schaller’s numbers (and I am going to accept his figures). Schaller says that 25% of Kerry’s vote in 2004 came from white males. Evidently because this percentage is significantly smaller than the percentage of white males who make up the total voters — paying attention to the total group is obviously a waste of time to Schaller.
    But let us be honest here, Schaller is citing a crappy presidential campaign that failed to mobilize and convince a signifcant segment of voters. For that alone, Schaller believes the Democratic party should just ignore that segment in the future? Is it just me or is this muzzy minded in the extreme?
    Schaller may have a point when it comes to presidential elections. The nature of the electoral college makes presidential electoral math significantly different from other races. Schaller — like most college professors — seems to think that presidential elections are all that matter.
    He also seems to think (like a preponderance of Democrats) that policies are what motivates voters. And like most liberals he thinks that those policies should be driven top down. This leads to his assumption that going after the white male vote (southern or not) will result in the party endorsing policies that will alienate other groups(blacks, women, union members, etc) or at least impede efforts to grow party support among these groups.
    The problem with Schaller’s views is that they are dead wrong. Schaller’s philosophy is the view of political elites (=policy wonks). While it is true that there are voters who vote based on a candiate’s stand on health care or civil rights or the death penalty, most voters make (1) their decision on whether to vote and (2) who to vote for based on their perception of the value a political candidate (or — more often — a political party) brings to them. These perceptions often are significantly different from those of the party elites.
    Working on county or district levels, we find when we go out and actually canvass (not just lit drop) how different these perceptions are. We have worked with county party organizations — some in so-called bright red areas — to bring true constituent/party service to those voters who have not been voting. This has encouraged turnout and overwhelming support for Democrats. In other cases, we have successfuly switched voters that have been voting Republican because of wedge issues. How? By getting personal and showing them that Democrats understand the problems in their lives and will work to solve them.
    The result has been signficant turn arounds in these areas and the turn arounds have included getting the votes of white, southern male (often rural) Democrats — and doing it without sacrificing the votes of other groups. This has helped the Democratic party take over county commissions, city council, mayor’s offices and legislatures.
    These are the numbers that we find interesting. And we think that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid would agree with us. There are 29 southern white male members of the House of Representatives and three southern white male members of the Senate. Pelosi wouldn’t have been elected nor Reid Majority Leader without these men.
    A lesson for those interested in a “Democratic Strategy” can be found in the 2006 election of one of those House members. Heath Shuler won not through support of conservatives or liberals, men or women, Caucasians or African-Americans. Heath Shuler won because Democrats in the North Carolina 11th District finally had enough of Charles Taylor and worked together — papering over significant disagreements on policy issues — to get out the vote for Shuer and maintain discipline to win.
    We would think that consideration of a successful Democratic strategy might start there than with the provocation of “So Long, White Boy.”
    Carl D. Clark
    Jennifer Gullette
    Southern Political Information Network

  2. Joe Corso on

    Is it really necessary to note that the day after a presidential election the winner must spend the next four years actually attempting to run the country and that, for that task, winning a narrow victory on a sociologically polarized basis (the educated, minorities, single women etc. on the one hand, and a white-based “heartland” coalition on the other) is a recipe for political polarization and cultural conflict of Clinton impeachment-era dimentions (anyone remember the Militia movement of the 1990’s?).
    It’s one thing to get stuck in a situation like that against one’s will, and quite another to positively seek and invite it. Mercenary “gun for hire” political consultants may not give a crap what happens the day after an election – to them, winning is indeed everything. But for anyone who visualizes their goal as achieving an enduring and stable democratic majority, throwing all the joe six-pack’s and their wives off the boat is downright nuts. Even if we didn’t need a decent chunk of their votes to win the election, which is highly dubious, we need a substantial number of them on our side to effectively govern.

  3. nfreeman on

    Michael Moore made the same observation 10 years ago and it’s just as silly now as it was then.
    The only reason to write off the white men who do vote Democrat is if you can gain more votes someplace else by doing so. As the article pointed out, 90+% African Americans already vote Democrat so we’re not likely to gain ground there. When it comes to other demographics, I’d be interested in hearing what issue (besided illegal immigration) people feel there is a real trade off and real ground to be gained by sacrificing the votes of white men and the votes of other groups.
    More importantly, as 2000 taught us, the Presidential election is about the Electoral College and most of the non-white electorate lives in the proverbial “blue states” while the “red” and “purple” states are more heavilly white. Granted, population trends tell us that the Latino/Latina vote is growing quickly in the Southwest, but is gaining a better chance at winning Arizona and New Mexico really worth guaranteeing yourself loses in so much of the rest of the country?
    I’m not arguing that Democrats should focus all their attention on the white male vote, I just think we should cautious around talk of ignoring any constituency.


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