Friday, June 1, 2012

The Masses Are Asses: Financially Struggling White People Support Mitt Romney?

During every presidential election campaign in recent memory the pundit classes have tried to figure out the riddle of the white working class (male) voter. Why do they support Republicans? Is the support by white people who are not "middle class" for a political party whose economic policies grossly favor the rich a sign of false consciousness? Is this dynamic a function of how white race prejudice is manipulated in the service of white identity politics?

We have discussed this dynamic many times. In fact, given the perennial nature of the white working class who vote against their economic self-interest meme, many people who write about American politics could simply go to their archives, update essays written several years ago, and they would likely still read as current.

The topic is worthy of recurring discussion because it hits on the intimate relationship between race and class in the West, specifically, and in the United States, in particular. Race and class evolved together from the 17th century onward; in all, the latter is the crucible in which the former was made. We cannot escape this shadow even in the Age of Obama.

To my eyes, this puzzle, while fascinating, is not particularly difficult to unpack. The "white working class" as understood by Thomas Frank and others is often vaguely (if not incorrectly) specified. When the white working class is defined as those white men without a college degree, then yes they do tend to support Republicans much more than Democrats.

When this same cohort is defined by income, then the white poor, as poor folk generally do, tend to overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party.

The fear by Democratic strategists that the Republicans are making huge inroads with the white working class can be largely explained by 1) how the South was flipped to the GOP over the last few decades; and 2) that the Republicans have been pealing away support from the Democrats with voters at almost all income levels.

The other key element for deciphering white working class support for Mitt Romney is that white people are the single largest, and most protected racial group in this country's history. They have uniquely benefited from the Racial State and its focused efforts to create wealth, generate income for, and transfer assets (almost) exclusively to white people from the Homestead Act, through to the invention of the white middle class in the post World War 2 era, and into the present.

White privilege is deeply attune to any threat at its status. Consequently, as recent public opinion data details, whites see racism as a "zero sum" game where racial equality means that there are clear winners and losers. Here, a (perceived) end to discrimination against people of color is interpreted as a threat to white people's group position and the inauguration of  "reverse racism" as the status quo ante.

White Americans, and white men in particular, are also more likely to be less hopeful about the future during the time of the Great Recession. Interestingly, while black and brown folks are suffering much more, it is white men who are feeling the most aggrieved. Finally, despite Barack Obama's careful avoidance of any type of serious policy advocacy on behalf of people of color, the symbolism of a black President, and America's demographic shifts, have primed a deep reservoir of unconscious and implicit racial bias that plays off of white racial resentment, and makes the white working class less likely to support the Democratic Party.

Last week, The Washington Post offered up another chapter in this long running conversation. Cohen and Tumulty's article had a gem of writing that neatly captured the diametrically opposed life-worlds, as well as the differing political calculi of (a particular cohort) of white voters as compared to people of color.

Are the masses asses?
Fifty percent of all voters say Obama would do more to advance the interests of the middle class more generally, and 44 percent say so of Romney. 
On that question, Obama has an advantage of 53 percent to 41 percent among those who think their foothold in the middle class is relatively secure, while the two candidates divide about equally among those struggling to stay there. 
That overall parity, as has been the case in the past, disguises a vast racial divide. Among white voters trying to stay in the middle class, Romney is considered the better candidate for that group by a 20-point margin; Obama is preferred by better than 3 to 1 among middle-class nonwhite voters, regardless of their sense of security. 
Whites and nonwhites — as well as voters across party lines — agree that Romney would do more than Obama to advocate for the economic interests of wealthy Americans. 
By a 23-point margin, voters say it’s Romney, not Obama, who would do more to advance the interests of Wall Street.
Mitt Romney would actually continue many of the Bush era policies that created the Great Recession. His austerity politics, Ayn Rand dreams, and naked desire to further starve demand by forcing income and resources further up to the plutocrats would make the economy worst and not better. I grant that the American voting public is not sophisticated. Nor, do they have a deep grasp of public policy. But as revealed by this survey, even they know that Obama is more likely to help the middle class, and Romney is an exclusive agent of the rich.

Yet, it seems that white racial group affinity trumps economic self-interest for many white voters.

Reversing the gaze. What of minority voters? They have suffered the most under the Obama administration, but are among his most ardent supporters. There is much evidence that people of color, both as a life necessity in a country where politics was/is very personal, and because we are keen students of power, are quite sophisticated in our political assessments. Obama may have had his finger in a bursting damn, and most certainly has done little as a "race man," but could it be that people of color understand that he is the better candidate when faced with the hellish alternative of a Tea Party GOP President?

In all, the model of a "rational" voters may be misspecified. Those white voters who support culture war issues and will do anything to get the black guy out of the White House, even at their own financial expense, may simply have a different set of values upon which they base their political behavior. Likewise, those black and brown folks who support Obama despite the economy may be moved by racial symbolism (never forgetting that white voters are deeply motivated by White identity politics too) and a sense of realpolitik that sees Barack as the best of two less than ideal options.

Who are we to judge?


CNu said...

Any who yet cleave to a black, living-memory, aspirational standard of democracy and morality - a standard which the Hon.Bro.Preznit.Double-O has ruthlessly usurped and defiled - are clearly qualified to both judge and assert that his political antics (not to mention his administration) are a disgrace.

Those white voters who support culture war issues and will do anything to get the black guy out of the White House, even at their own financial expense, may simply have a different set of values upon which they base their political behavior. Likewise, those black and brown folks who support Obama despite the economy may be moved by racial symbolism.

The perfect racialist symmetry of the Obama Effect underscores the incandescent brilliance of George Schuyler who called it precisely 80 years ago.

Shilling for this Obamamandian negroe hokum must make you REALLY crave a toothbrush, some listerine, and a bar of Irish Spring...,

chaunceydevega said...

@Cnu. I am not shilling for Obama. I am offering a plain analysis of some inconvenient facts. You have been all over Schuyler lately, did you get a new collection of his writings for the catalogue, discover some old gems? He seems to come up a good amount lately.

sherifffruitfly said...

because race > class, in America. we all know it. not sure why we're all so scared to say it.

CNu said...

Schuyler should come up daily. Preferably, several times per day in the current context of what is being trafficked as race matters.

Immerse yourself in the Schuylerian oeuvre and offer courses on the afrofuturistic salience of the ART that that brother was putting down generations ago - pop ART that runs insightful circles around what now passes for scholarship in the exact same political and cultural domains.

Anonymous said...

Theories about voting and race are endless...nothing new here to augment the pile...Yawn

Comrade Physioprof said...

If you consider that the most important economic interest is not one's absolute wealth, but rather one's wealth advantage over other people, then white middle- and lower-class people voting in favor of policies that will fucke them uppe but will fucke uppe non-whites a lot more are voting consistently with their economic interests.

Anonymous said...

Too much credit CD, somebody took a chunk of their change, bought them all corndogs, mini-flags and bumper stickers. Whispered in their ear about their guns and God being taken away, made some allusions to a patriotic Tom Cruise movie, and packed them on a bus to rally at the White House.

We apparantly don't need that much attention.

Anonymous said...

From wikipedia: "Schuyler expressed opposition to Martin Luther King Jr.'s being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, writing, "Dr. King's principal contribution to world peace has been to roam the country like some sable Typhoid Mary, infecting the mentally disturbed with perversions of Christian doctrine, and grabbing fat lecture fees from the shallow-pated."

Yeah, Dr. King was in it for the money and contributed nothing to the world. This George Schuyler sounds like a real piece of trash put fortunately, he is an obscure one. Thank the none God in the none heaven that MLK will be remembered years from now while no one will know (and good decent people won't care) about the writings of some Uncle Tom who should've died in the 1930s back when he still had all of his marbles.

Beyond-The-Spectrum said...

People vote their beliefs, not the reality

Anonymous said...

Race is the quintessential wedge issue. "Let's you and him fight." "As long as the 99 percent are fighting among themselves they won't notice us raping them and destroying the world they live in." Divide and rule. Destroy.

Anonymous said...

Oh! I guess I can use my favorite quote from the original Star Trek series here:

Die! Die! Everybody die (tee hee)!

kaney said...

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