[Debate] Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive - Obama courts 'angry white men'
Riaz K Tayob
riaz.tayob at gmail.com
Sat Apr 28 08:06:41 BST 2012
Obama courts the 'angry white men'
By Richard McGregor in Washington
If you talk to Barack Obama's top advisers about US voters six months
out from the November election, they will tell you that the president
leads Mitt Romney with women, minorities and young people, and is way
ahead on vision for the country.
In which case, some might conclude, the election is in the bag. After
all, women turn out to vote more than men in the US. And Hispanics, the
fastest-growing minority, favour the president by a margin of at least
two to one.
In the next breath, however, the advisers admit the election will be
perilously close for their boss, with Mr Romney, the presumptive
Republican nominee, guaranteed a base vote of at least 47 to 48 per cent.
The difference is the "angry white man" factor. More than ever since
Republicans began peeling them away from the Democrats as far back as
the 1970s, white men -- especially those without university degrees --
Running election campaigns in the US and elsewhere is both an art and a
science. Much as automakers re-engineer their rivals' best performing
cars to see what makes them tick, campaign managers take apart the
electorate before each new poll and then put it back together in a way
that works for them.
After the 2010 mid-term congressional elections, Democrats who
re-engineered their dismal returns were confronted by the fact that
white working-class men had again voted in record numbers for Republicans.
The Republican party has spent decades targeting blue-collar whites on
emotional cultural issues. The "guns, God and gays" theme captured the
visceral distaste that socially conservative workers felt for the agenda
of the Woodstock generation.
But there are signs the US political landscape is changing.
In the 21st century, God still matters, with evangelical Christians
forming a crucial part of the Republican base. But guns have drifted
down the agenda, as Democrats have largely given up on tighter firearms
laws. So, too, to a significant degree, have issues of sexuality, with
gay marriage increasingly winning mainstream support.
Left-wing commentators such as Thomas Frank have argued that the genius
of the Republican strategy was that it persuaded workers to vote against
their economic interests -- in favour of a ruling plutocracy only
interested in lifting profits at the expense of wages and conditions.
The Obama campaign has targeted messages for every group in the election
-- social issues such as contraception for women and immigration for
Hispanics, for instance. But for the blue-collar Republican base, the
White House pitch has distinct echoes of Mr Frank's class-warfare thesis.
Republicans have long acknowledged that the decades-long squeeze on
middle-class incomes is a key issue with voters. They suffered a
backlash at the polls in 2006 and 2008, partly because they were
perceived to have done nothing about it.
Mr Obama now has ownership of the country's economic woes and the
sinking middle-class and, like Mr Frank, is more than willing to push
responsibility for the issue on to rapacious big business.
This strategy, based on the notion of "fairness", is working at the
margins for Mr Obama as the economy recovers. His support among
"non-college whites" -- as the pollsters call them -- returned to 2008
levels, when he won 40 per cent of their vote compared with John
McCain's 58, according to a recent ABC/Washington Post survey.
Anti-union campaigns in the key states of Ohio and Wisconsin by newly
elected Republican governors in the past 18 months have also helped Mr
Obama with blue-collar workers. But the best thing he has going for him
is the rise in manufacturing fortunes, which the administration has
tried to tie to the auto industry bailout.
Hence the Obama campaign's unofficial bumper sticker: "Osama bin Laden
is dead and General Motors is alive."
The Republicans call GM "government motors", branding the company as
another example of Obama's statist overreach. Their challenge is to
convince the company's workers -- who are also their voters -- that GM
wouldn't be dead as well if Washington hadn't stepped in.
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the Debate-list