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The Economist’s Lexington columnist explains:

Working-class whites are angry with the Democrats for lots of reasons. Race is not one of them.

..the prospect of a Democratic rout prompts an inevitable question. Have such voters turned on the Democrats because Mr Obama is black? His election was hailed as proof that America had moved beyond race. And yet voting in the mid-terms will be polarised by race. Most whites will pull the Republican lever. Almost all blacks and most Hispanics will vote Democrat.

Race was a factor in 2008, and still is. Why else would blacks alone have stuck so staunchly by their man? As for working-class whites, they did not much care for Mr Obama even in 2008, preferring John McCain by a margin of 18%. But as Mr Obama campaigned, his colour seemed to count for less.

For 20 years Stan Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, studied the blue-collar white voters of Macomb County near Detroit. In 1984 they voted by two to one for Ronald Reagan because, Mr Greenberg found, when such voters heard Democrats talk about economic “fairness”, they saw this as code for transferring money to blacks. Nonetheless, in 2008 Mr Obama won Macomb County with a margin of eight points. Over the course of his campaign, the proportion of Macomb voters who said they were “comfortable” with the idea of Mr Obama as president rose from 40% to 60%. Having watched Mr Obama closely, Mr Greenberg concluded, they “became confident he would work for all Americans and be the steady leader the times required.”

If such voters have now changed their minds, the reason is not that Mr Obama is black—he was black in 2008. And for all its momentous symbolism, his election is not the most recent evidence that America has turned the page on race. In June, in South Carolina of all states, Tim Scott, a black Republican, defeated the son of the segregationist Strom Thurmond in a primary, and is on his way to a seat in the House. Compare that to 1983, when a disgraceful number of Democrats in Chicago voted for the Republican rather than send the black Harold Washington to city hall.

All of that has gone. The electorate may be divided by race, but no longer mainly because of race. Some of Mr Obama’s enemies have tried to harness pockets of bigotry by painting him in various ways as un-American. But outright racism in politics is now beyond the pale and will probably have little to do with the coming rejection of the Democrats by the white working class. A wrecked economy and the feeling that their president is out of touch are reason enough. It has, after all, happened before. In two short years from 1992 to 1994, when Bill Clinton was president, white working-class support for the Republicans soared like a rocket from 47% to 61%. Nobody blamed that on skin colour.

Maybe not skin color, exactly, but some people did make a racial issue out of the opposition to Bill Clinton… in writing about the impeachment in 1998, Toni Morrison wrote in The New Yorker that he’d been mistreated because of his “Blackness”:
Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.

Gherald filed this under: ,  
  1. Metavirus says:

    lexington has become such a boor lately. i used to like him quite a bit.

    this sentence is pure, excrescent twaddle: "outright racism in politics is now beyond the pale and will probably have little to do with the coming rejection of the Democrats by the white working class. "

    um, thanks lex, for informing us that blatant racism like, e.g., running ads accusing a negro candidate of raping a white woman is "beyond the pale". racism got a lot more subtle and dogwhistley about, um, 50 years ago…! starting with nixon's southern strategy, reactionary aggrieved white folks learned to talk in code that highlights the otherness of the other side. etc. etc.

    it really pisses me off to hear old people bitch that any of this code-talking isn't racism because they were alive when people went around shouting nigger. grr.

    lexington is past his prime.

    • Gherald says:

      Uh, the point of the column is that while race remains divisive it's not driving the result of this election--the shift from 2008 must be explained by other factors.

      • Metavirus says:

        that point is certainly true -- race is not the primary thing driving the election. at least not "race" in and of itself. however, a big thing driving reactionary rightwing voters this season is the same thing behind our country's ongoing racial woes: the cultural and racial anxiety of always-aggrieved white christian males. just look at who loves sarah palin and christine odonnell — old white christian males who remember a time when darkies knew their place and bitches stayed home and did what they were told.

        • Gherald says:

          Being nostalgic for women staying home seems an odd reason to support female politicians--the starburst effect is rather more plausible.

          • Metavirus says:

            fair enough, although we unfortunately have to infer what is going on in the old white male brain because the words they speak are almost unintelligible. in my estimation, palin and o'donnell represent that nice little christian wifey who would so LOVE to stay home and nurture their baby grizzlies, but get so upset by all the communists looking to take away white christian privilege that they are forced to speak out about it, because they can take it no more! a hot wifey who is steamin mad about the same shit you are is, i must assume, be a pretty big turn on for the pre-viagra and post-viagra set.

      • Metavirus says:

        by the way, "the shift from 2008 must be explained by other factors" isn't hard to explain at all:

        off-year elections which always favor the party out of power +

        a shitty job market +

        aggrieved white christian males stirred up like a hornet's nest at a barbeque =

        a much different electoral dynamic than existed in 2008.

  2. Anon says:

    I think someone missed the point here. Who really cares what white christian males vote. The results will be determined by the same thing that determined them in 2008- turn out in black communities. The shine wore off the "let's make history by voting for the first black president," and sadly turn out will nosedive. If that's not race driving results……….well……

    • Metavirus says:

      let us not forget the explicit voter suppression effort that the rightwing turns out every election cycle to suppress minority votes.

      see, e.g, the "Vote Integrity" deal that Mark Kirk is running in, surprise!, Black communities. http://www.newsy.com/videos/kirk-voter-integrity-

      also the spanish-language ad that was pulled from Univision that painted itself in "disappointed democrat" language and urged latinos to stay home and not vote. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/39746699/ns/politics-

      same game, same rules, different players

    • Gherald says:

      | The results will be determined by the same thing that determined them in 2008- turn out in black communities. The shine wore off the "let's make history by voting for the first black president," and sadly turn out will nosedive. If that's not race driving results……….well……

      That's race driving the last election's result….

      But it does make me curious what 2008's margin would have been if turnout among blacks had equaled the 2004 election's.

      • Metavirus says:

        the popular vote margin would have shrunk a bit but remember that the number of african americans making up a portion of the voting electorate in 2008 was still relatively small.

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