The New York Times had a piece that caught my attention the other day (read here). The piece focused on how Democrats are trying to attract white men back to the party to avoid a midterm bloodbath Unfortunately, for the party, this is no easy task.
Since Jimmy Carter in 1976 no Democratic Presidential candidate has garnered 40% of the white male vote (Bill Clinton got 39% in 92). While it might be a simplistic explanation Chris Matthews might have come up with the best explanation, labeling the GOP the “Daddy Party” and the Democratic Party the “Mommy Party.” In essence the GOP is all about self-reliance, national security and fiscal responsibility while the Democratic Party focuses more on Healthcare, education and other social programs.
Nowadays these labels are not fully accurate. The GOP is far from unified on national security and frictions exist within Democratic ranks on education and healthcare. But for blocs of voters these details are largely irrelevant. White males consistently have favored the GOP while women as a whole have favored the Democratic party (particularly single and minority women). Indeed, it is so entrenched in American politics it has become known as the “gender divide.”
The Presidential election of 2012 provided a perfect example of this divide. Mitt Romney carried white men 62%-35% and white women 56%-42%. But overall Romney lost women 55%-44% because of his struggles with single and minority women. As a result, Democrats increased their margins in the Senate and easily retained the White House.
But Democrats face a different environment in 2014 that, according to the New York Time’s article, makes them have to pursue the white male vote. Democrats have to pursue this increasingly hostile bloc of voters for three reasons, 1) their base of minorities and women is unexcited for the midterms, 2) holding their majority in the Senate runs through heavily white, conservative states and 3) with an unexcited base the party will see a drop-off in partisan turnout in many races.
Yet, while individual candidates may be trying to court the white male vote the national party is working at odds to win white males. Consider the list of issues the President and national party are pushing; increase the minimum wage, the war on women, early childhood education and new mandates on businesses to provide sick-leave and childcare to pregnant women (ironically, married women increasingly side with the GOP regardless). None of these issues are designed to resonate with white men.
Meanwhile, the national GOP platform is all about the male vote. Republicans are heavily courting the white vote in their quest for the Senate majority, focusing heavily on national security and the economy. Their attacks on Obamacare’s burdensome regulations on business and new taxes on struggling families is likely to resonate more with white men.
Of course one would be remiss if no mention of demographics or shifting political coalitions was discussed. The transition of the South to the GOP has meant a steady trickle of new white male voters to the GOP. The Democratic Party’s increasing reliance on a downscale/upscale coalition of wealthy suburban voters and lower-income minorities has squeezed out the policy priorities of middle class white men. As a result, blue-collar workers in particular have moved to the GOP (more-so in midterm elections).
The “more so in midterm elections” is what worries Democrats this election cycle. Democrats fret that 2014 could turn into a 2010 scenario where many of their core supporters stay home and the GOP wallops the party among white men. While in 2010 the GOP won the same percent of the white male vote as in 2012 (62%) they made up 38% of the electorate in 2010 compared to 34% in 2012. Democrats should also acknowledge their buts were kicked in 2010 because many single men and women also sided with the GOP (but turned back to Obama in 2012).
How Democrats pivot to the issues white men care about is hard to see. Beyond the obvious economic, gendercentric issues Democrats are running on they also are hammering social issues. Yet, more men oppose gay marriage and particularly abortion than women. Democrats are adamant in their defense of abortion rights. In 2012 and the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial race they were able to utilize this message effectively because of Republican mistakes (not that it shifted the male vote). But with fewer voters likely to show up in the midterm and more of them men the abortion message is unlikely to be as effective as in prior elections.
Looking forward to 2016 and beyond it is likely the white male vote will stay in the GOP’s column. Even as the GOP tries to court women on economic issues the Democratic Party is unlikely to split their winning electoral coalition. In other words, no transition to the issues white men care about. As a result, white males are likely to have no choice but to stay in the GOP’s coalition. Of course, for the GOP their issues do not lie with winning the white vote but minorities and single women.