Sean Trende over at Realclearpolitics (who I greatly respect) has a great piece on the 2012 election. I won’t write an entire synopsis of his article but it basically comes down to pouring cold water on the theory the power of the white vote is out. This is incredibly relevant, especially at a time when many analysts and strategists, not to mention the media, is saying the GOP needs to court minority voters or fade away into insignificance. The different wings of the party thus are battling it out on the best way to do it, immigration reform vs. outreach.
I want to explore a little more of Trende’s theory about the 2012 missing white voters. Trende’s analysis of election returns shows that Romney did fine in Mormon country in the West, and actually increased Bush’s and McCain’s returns in evangelical and deeply conservative suburban territory. However, it is where Romney did worse or about equal to Bush and McCain that tells the story. Romney performed weakly in the rural Northeast, rural Midwest and non-Mormon west. This stretch of counties basically runs unbroken all the way from the East Coast to the West Coast.
If one looks at it closely this map kind of reminds you of Ross Perot’s coalition. Largely white, downscale and rural these voters were stretched across the country from the Northeast to the West. Trende has an idea of where these voters lie ideologically but he hypothesizes these voters stayed home (data backs him up) in 2012. In an election where the choices were a rich, uncaring plutocrat and an out of touch unabashed liberal the best option was to stay home (and perhaps turn off the TV for the night).
These white voters tend to be pessimistic about the future of the country, lack college degrees and also feel left out of the political process. This is important to note in contemporary American politics. Republicans and Democrats have both played heavily on the issue of race, but to a degree both seem weary of touching the issue these voters feelings seem to reflect; the class divide in America. Combine this with the fact the Supreme Court is set to rule on Section V of the Voting Rights Act and racially based admissions preferences at universities across the country and class could become the new issue in American politics. If it does, Republicans would be unwise to ignore these Ross Perot voters.
Not all these non-2012 Ross Perot voters are uniform Republicans. They tend to hold a wide array of views on numerous issues. Ross Perot was pro-choice, pro gun-control and pro gay marriage but it does bear in mind his campaign did not emphasize these traits. His campaign focused on more rural, downscale voters worries such as jobs, the deficit and the barriers to entry into the country’s political system. This is a message certainly some voters for both Romney and Obama could agree on. But Republicans have been better at winning these voters since 1980.
Evidence suggests Reagan dominated among them in 80 and 84, HW did well with them in 88 until he ran into Clinton and Perot. GW Bush did not do well with them in 2000 but won many of them in 2004. Meanwhile, both McCain and Romney have failed to connect with these voters while every Democratic candidate since Jimmy Carter has somewhat or largely failed to get these voters support. This makes these voters something of a wild-card in Presidential elections that slightly favors the GOP.
This creates a dilemma for the GOP. The party needs to find a way to build a new coalition to win the White House and their efforts seem to center on winning young and Hispanic voters. But the efforts the party is putting forth to do this are seen as lacking to these major electoral groups and could potentially alienate the party to these swing voters. The 2012 election showed that actual candidate d0 matter to these voters, not just ideology, but a party seen as moving to the Left and ignoring their concerns does not seem likely to earn their support or trust.
Traditional conservative policies seem to hold little allure to these voters. Reagan and George Bush were judged on the economy and national security credentials. But a long-time Senator and veteran and a venture capitalist do not seem the best candidates to capture these voters. Both Reagan and Bush had the advantage of being able to come from somewhere other than DC. Perhaps the GOP might enjoy similar success with a Governor as their nominee. Likewise, fresh faces such as Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, or Marco Rubio might speak to these voters in a way long-time politicians they see as part of the problem cannot. Either way the GOP could benefit with a candidate that speaks to these voters.
Republicans should be wary of abandoning capturing these voters. They are situated in key swing states nationwide and can swing the electoral college. They also may be a more natural fit for today’s GOP than the young or Hispanics. Capturing the newest, glitziest thing is always the most alluring action to take. But the GOP should not let these missing white voters get away.