It’s safe to say that no subject has preoccupied political analysts over the last month or so than the relative support levels of Barack Obama among white working-class voters in the late Democratic primaries.
But in yesterday’s New York Times, John Harwood reports on a discussion with TDS Co-Editor Ruy Teixeira that places this issue in a broader and calmer perspective.
Ruy Teixeira, a Democratic analyst of voting trends, wrote the book on the core issue in the endgame of the party’s nomination fight. Its title is “America’s Forgotten Majority: Why the White Working Class Still Matters.”
One might conclude that Mr. Teixeira is troubled by Senator Barack Obama’s performance in recent primaries against Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton among the voters known by nicknames like Joe Sixpack or Nascar Dad or Waitress Mom.
Actually, he is not.
Mr. Obama, who leads the delegate count, “is clocking in where he needs to be” with white, working-class voters to win the White House in November, Mr. Teixeira said.
What about the argument, emanating from both the Clinton campaign and from many Republicans, that her solid advantage over Obama among non-college educated white voters spells disaster for Obama in a general election?
Mr. Teixeira, who is not backing either candidate, does not buy that argument. He dismisses intraparty contests as “pretty poor evidence” of whether Mr. Obama, as the Democratic nominee, could attract the blue-collar support he would need against Senator John McCain, the presumed Republican nominee.
And how much blue-collar support would Mr. Obama need? Not a majority, said Mr. Teixeira. Though blue-collar Democrats once represented a centerpiece of the New Deal coalition, they have shrunk as a proportion of the information age-economy and as a proportion of the Democratic base.
Al Gore lost working-class white voters by 17 percentage points in 2000, even while winning the national popular vote. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts lost them by 23 points in 2004, while running within three points of President Bush over all. Mr. Teixeira suggests that Mr. Obama can win the presidency if he comes within 10 to 12 percentage points of Mr. McCain with these voters, as Democratic candidates for the House did in the 2006 midterm election.
In recent national polls, that is exactly what Mr. Obama is doing.
And that’s actually a bit comforting, given the relatively early stage of the electoral cycle, and the proximity of a big media frenzy over remarks made by Jeremiah Wright.
Mr. Teixeira argues that Mr. Obama’s standing with working-class whites may be artificially low in the wake of his skirmishing with Mrs. Clinton and the controversy over his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.
“Yes, he has a problem,” Mr. Teixeira said. “But it’s a solvable problem.”
So going by “the book”–Ruy Teixeira’s cutting-edge analysis of demographic trends in the electorate–it’s no time for panic about Obama and the White Working Class, and there’s plenty of time for the likely Democratic nominee to build a winning coalition.