White Voters and Obama: Nothing Special
The Dimpled Chad/Exit Polls
There has been a lot written about President Obama’s “struggles” with white voters. The Washington Post reports the “deepest racial split since ’88.” You’ll hear a lot about Obama’s problem with white voters Tuesday as results come in.
Last week a political scientist made a point that deserves hearing:
Obama doesn’t have a special problem with white voters. The fact is that white voters have a problem with Democrats in general — and have for decades.
Eric Juenke is a political scientist at Michigan State University. He wrote last week for The Monkey Cage about Obama’s “problem” with white voters. Yes, Juenke wrote, President Obama is behind — way behind — with white voters. He continues:
But this misses a central point: Since the mid-1970’s Democrats have had a white voter “problem.” Obama is a Democrat. This is by far the best lens through which to view white support for Obama. Conversely, it is also the best lens through which to view black support for Obama. For example, LBJ received essentially the same level of black support in 1964 as did Obama in 2008.
The implication in all of this is that prejudice is behind this “gap.” President Obama is African-American, so the lack of white voter support is a sign of bias.
Not so, Juenke says. All recent Democrats have had low support among white voters. Obama’s support among white voters in 2008, in fact, was relatively high — for a Democrat.
The chart above shows the Republican and Democratic shares of white votes since 1988 according to the exit polls. (Third parties are excluded.) As you can see, Obama in 2008 did relatively well among white voters, compared to other white Democrats.
Here is the rest of Juenke’s post:
What about the polls in 2012? Here is the Romney/Obama white voter gap in June: Gallup, 16-17 points; CNN, 14; Fox News, 16; Ipsos-Reuters, 15; Pew, 13. These are all in line with the historical pattern for Democrats. In October, as the race tightened, the gap widened, but has still been very much in line with past Democratic performance: IBD/TIPP, 15 points; ABC/WaPo, 21 (two weeks before it was 11 points), Fox News, 19; Pew, 21; CBS, 14.
Has Obama’s white support gone down since 2008? Probably. But does he have a white voter “problem?” Probably not. Even if he does, it is not an Obama problem. It has more to do with the fact that he is a Democratic incumbent running during a struggling economy.
So how should we think about race and the 2012 election?
• Obama is likely get between 38% and 43% of the national white vote.
• This will fit within the historical pattern of Democrats since 1976.
• Racial attitudes are already baked into the partisan cake, thus racial bigots on the left and right made their partisan choices a long time ago and will dance with whoever brought them to the party on Election Day.
• Obama’s white voter problem is the Democrats’ white voter problem. Indeed, he has performed better with this group than any national Democrat since the era of party polarization began.