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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Inside Romney’s Race Card Strategy

Ron Fournier’s “Why (and How) Romney is Playing the Race Card” at the National Journal takes a perceptive look at the GOP candidate’s dog whistle strategy. It’s about stoking the insecurities of white working-class voters with racially-charged code words. Fournier relates a conversation with two old friends back in McComb County, Michigan, in which they express opinions that African Americans (“they”) in the area are no angry because the get “subsidization” in the form of a “magic card they can swipe” to pay for things. Fournier adds:

A poll this spring by the Pew Economic Mobility Project underscored how minorities and whites see their divergent economic trajectories. Whites earning between $25,000 and $75,000 per year were more than twice as likely as blacks in the same income range–and nearly twice as likely as Latinos–to say they had already achieved the American Dream. A majority of Latinos and a plurality of African-Americans say they expect to be making enough money 10 years from now to live the lifestyle they desire. A majority of whites consider that a pipe dream.
Working-class whites, in other words, are already more prosperous and secure than working-class minorities, but they’re less optimistic because they don’t believe they’re climbing anymore. They’re simply trying to hold on to what they’ve got, and see others grabbing at it.

Further, adds Fournier,

Thanks to Romney, they see minorities grabbing at their way of life every day and all day in the inaccurate welfare ad. It opens with a picture of Bill Clinton (a man obsessed with Macomb County and Reagan Democrats) signing the 1996 welfare reform act, which shifted the benefits from indefinite government assistance to one pushing people into employment and self-reliance.
A leather-gloved white laborer wipes sweat from his forehead. “But on July 12,” the ad intones,” President Obama quietly announced a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements. Under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job. They just send your welfare check and “welfare to work” goes back to being plain old welfare.”

As for the effectiveness of the ad, Fournier notes:

…First, internal GOP polling and focus groups offer convincing evidence that the welfare ad is hurting Obama. Second, the welfare issue, generally speaking, triggers anger in white blue-collar voters that is easily directed toward Democrats. This information comes from senior GOP strategists who have worked both for President Bush and Romney. They spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid retribution.
Furthermore, a senior GOP pollster said he has shared with the Romney camp surveys showing that white working-class voters who backed Obama in 2008 have moved to Romney in recent weeks “almost certainly because of the welfare ad. We’re talking a (percentage) point or two, but that could be significant.”

Fournier goes on to roll out a little polling history that reveals that a substantial percentage of white workers embrace racial stereotypes. He concludes that “Romney and his advisors stand by an ad they know is wrong – or, at the very least, they are carelessly ignoring the facts. That ad is exploiting the worst instincts of white voters – as predicted and substantiated by the Republican Party’s own polling.”
That may be why Romney looked pleased when he got booed at the NAACP gathering back in July for saying he would repeal the ACA. It was likely a case of a planned gambit that worked just the way he wanted.

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