White guys vs. Obama

He’s getting blown away among blue-collar white men, but it doesn’t have to cost him the election

Topics: Opening Shot,

White guys vs. Obama (Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster)

The flight of female voters from the Republican Party has attracted understandable attention, but there’s another factor in the gender gap that’s widened these past few months: men. Specifically, white men. And even more specifically, working-class white men.

Recent polls have found that President Obama’s support among all men is not where it was in 2008, when he edged out John McCain by 1 point among them, 49 to 48 percent. For instance, a Pew survey released this week put Obama 6 points behind Mitt Romney with men. Similar slippage is not evident among women, who favored Obama by 13 points in the poll – the same margin he enjoyed with them against McCain.

Nor is Obama’s drop among men playing out across the racial spectrum. He retains nearly universal support from black men and is crushing Romney among Hispanic men just as thoroughly as he crushed McCain. With white males, though, Obama trails Romney by 26 points, 60 to 34 percent, in Pew’s survey. In a Quinnipiac poll released Thursday, the spread is 21, 55 to 34 percent. By comparison, Obama held McCain to a 16-point margin among white men in ‘08, nabbing 41 percent of their votes – a better showing than either John Kerry or Al Gore managed.

And even among white men, there seems to be a divide, one that was apparent in the ’08 results but that has been exacerbated since then. According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll taken last week, Obama trails Romney among white men with college degrees by 13 points, 55 to 42 percent. This is comparable to ’08, when Obama also secured 42 percent of the college-educated white male vote. But with non-college-educated white men, Obama runs 29 points behind Romney in the ABC/WaPo survey, 61 to 32 percent. Pew also has him at 32 percent with these voters – 7 points worse than he fared with them in ’08. This is the source of the male portion of the gender gap.

By itself, Obama’s struggle with white working-class men is no surprise. Bill Clinton held his own with them in his 1996 reelection campaign, but they turned on Al Gore in 2000 and haven’t looked back since. The question is why Obama’s support among them has fallen so much.



The obvious explanation is the economy and general economic anxiety, which is presumably more pronounced among working-class voters. But if this is the reason, then shouldn’t Obama’s numbers be down just as sharply among non-college white women? Right now, there’s not much evidence that they are; some recent polls show him dipping slightly below his ’08 performance with this group, but others have him running even with or even slightly ahead of that pace.

It could also be that the blue-collar men have been more receptive (especially in the face of tough economic times) to the right’s unrelenting efforts to create culturally based resentment of Obama. Conservative leaders, news outlets and commentators have taken countless  opportunities to add to their preferred caricature of Obama as a radical leftist eager to settle old racial scores on behalf of black America. The more subtle voices have simply pushed the idea that there’s something distinctly un-American about Obama’s policies. It may be that all of this has had an effect beyond the hardcore Republican base.

Whatever the reason, Obama’s white guy problem is particularly ominous for his chances in a swing state like Ohio, with its large blue-collar population. The flip side, though, is that he may not be as damaged in swing states with more diverse populations — Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, for instance, where Hispanics account for a growing share of the electorate. This could create a path to victory for Obama even if he’s unable to win back any of the blue-collar white men he’s lost.

At this point, if Obama wins a second term, it will be despite losing to Romney among men and among whites. This doesn’t mean he can afford to write off blue-collar white men completely. But if he gets his clock cleaned with them and still prevails, it will speak to the advantage Democrats figure to enjoy as America continues to diversify in the years ahead.

Steve Kornacki

Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>