Why Are Struggling White Voters Leaning Toward Mitt Romney?

I saw this story all over the intertubes yesterday, usually coupled with a denunciation of "stupid white racists" - and that really rubbed me the wrong way. I know all about racists, I grew up surrounded by them and I live in a white working class

[oldembed src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/ax15XRL1URQ" width="425" height="239" resize="1" fid="21"]

I saw this story all over the intertubes yesterday, usually coupled with a denunciation of "stupid white racists" - and that really rubbed me the wrong way. I know all about racists, I grew up surrounded by them and I live in a white working class neighborhood. So yeah, I know there's a problem.

But if there's one thing I do know about my racist working-class peers, it's that the racism is more of a secondary characteristic. (In my neighborhood, they turned out for Obama when he first ran in 2008. I remember being pleasantly surprised when I read the precinct returns.) The racism really comes to the forefront when times are tough, and they're really tough now.

In an election year in which the economy ranks as Americans’ top concern, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney holds significant advantages over President Obama among white voters who are struggling financially and buffeted by job loss, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Asked which candidate would do more to advance their families’ economic interests, middle-class white voters who say they are struggling to maintain their financial positions chose Romney over Obama by a large margin — 58 percent to 32 percent.

"Why do these stupid people insist on voting against their own interests?" one commenter chided. Geeze, condescend much?

Voters split evenly on whether President Obama or Mitt Romney would do more to help their families financially, but big majorities see the Republican as doing more to help wealthy Americans and Wall Street, not necessarily a win for the former governor.

The former Massachusetts governor has a similar advantage on this question among white voters who have lost a job in recent years, or who have seen a family member or close friend face unemployment.

Nonwhite voters, struggling or not, give Obama huge leads over Romney when it comes to looking after their families’ financial interests.

Are whites really voting against their own interests, or are we looking at a protest vote? Because with the exception of the auto industry bailout, I can't think of much Obama's administration has done to alleviate the economic pain of working class people. Did he push for an additional tier of unemployment benefits at a time when they were desperately needed? No, he did not. Did he do whatever he could to hold onto public sector jobs and thus keep the economy going? No. Again, he was much more concerned about Wall Street.

When the banks came to steal their houses, did Obama stop them? Nope. In fact, his administration went to work to craft an agreement between states that they wouldn't be prosecuted. Tim Geithner made sniffy comments about "moral hazard" and bent over to shine the shoes of the bankers. Did the administration really attempt to solve the housing crisis that devastated so many communities? No, they were too busy trying to prop up the zombie banks. Look at the disaster that was HARP.

And this is before the Grand Bargain is even on their radar. When that happens, working class voters will never trust the Democrats again. Because Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are the grease in the wheels that make working class life work for extended families.

The results underscore a continuing challenge for Obama and the Democratic Party with white voters, and particularly those without college degrees — who, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are significantly more likely to be unemployed than those with higher education.

Indeed, among whites who described themselves as struggling to maintain their economic footing — regardless of their current class — nearly seven in 10 lacked a college diploma. And although they lean more Republican than the population in general, it is a group that neither party can ignore. In the new poll, 31 percent of these voters described themselves as Republicans, 27 percent as Democrats.

The president's biggest achievement is the health care law, and it will definitely make parts of their lives better. But it's complicated, most people don't understand it, and they're afraid (not without reason) that they're going to get stuck with yet another monthly bill. (Remember, the Republicans have already announced they're going to defund it.) When you're out of work and just trying to survive, the benefits of this bill are largely theoretical and off in the distant future. What about right now?

And we won't even get into the constant drone of Fox News in the background and the effect on their brains.

All that said, it's still the job of the president and his administration to win the support of the voters. People vote to make their lives better, not worse. Explaining to them how much worse it could have been if the president's half-hearted stimulus package hadn't passed doesn't make a very compelling case for his reelection.

Here's a novel idea: Why not do something to actually help them?

About Susie Madrak

Comments

We welcome relevant, respectful comments. Please refer to our Terms of Service for information on our posting policy.