A lot of things in the latest Pew Research Center survey should cheer President Obama. Voter anger against government--even among those identifying as Tea Party backers--is down, the Wisconsin union standoff hasn’t stirred any widespread antilabor backlash, and there’s more tolerance than ever for same-sex marriage.
But the poll also found a troubling note for the White House, and a happy one for the GOP.
By big margin, white males still either disapprove or strongly disapprove of the president’s job performance. The continued high disapproval ratings among this group is even more glaring since it comes when more Americans than in the past year, except white men, say they like the job Obama is doing.
The temptation is to conclude that the continued skepticism and downright hostility to Obama are limited to stereotypical gun-racking, beer-guzzling, blue-collar white “Joes.” Many who don’t like Obama fit that image. But many also don’t. A significant percentage in the Pew Center survey are middle-to-upper income, college educated white males who live in suburbia.
Their numbers are big and their political influence, potent. The current crop of GOP presidential candidates know that and bank on this demographic sector to be the driving force in the 2012 presidential election.
In 2000, exit polls showed that although white women backed George W. Bush over Democratic presidential contender Al Gore by three percentage points, white men backed Bush by 27 points. Without the big backing of Southern white males for Bush in 2000, Gore would’ve easily won the White House, and the Florida vote debacle would’ve been a meaningless sideshow.
In the 2004 election, the winning margin was 26 points for Bush over Democratic presidential rival John Kerry among white males. Bush swept Kerry in every one of the Old Confederacy states and in three out of four states bordering the North. That insured another Bush term.
In 2008, Republican Presidential candidate John McCain got nearly 60 percent of the white male vote. Although this was down slightly from prior presidential years, it still was high enough to keep McCain relatively competitive.
The intense and unshakeable loyalty of a majority of working and middle-class white men to the GOP is not new. The gender gap was first identified and labeled in the 1980 contest between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. That year Reagan had more than a 20- percent bulge in the margin of male votes he got over Carter.
By comparison, women voters split almost evenly down the middle in backing both Reagan and Carter. Men didn't waver from their support of Reagan during his years in office. Many made no secret of why they liked him. His reputed toughness, firmness and refusal to compromise on issues of war and peace fit neatly with the often-stereotypical, professed male qualities of courage, determination and toughness.
Even though the white male penchant for backing Republican presidents gave Bush the electoral edge, it’s important to recall that in 2000, Gore won the popular vote, as well as the electoral votes in more than a dozen states, where women voters provided the margin for victory.
The GOP's grip on male voters, however, could’ve even spelled doom for Bill Clinton in his reelection bid in 1996. If women hadn’t turned out in large numbers for Clinton, GOP presidential contender Robert Dole may well have defeated him.
While men rate defense, a strong military, the war on terrorism and national security as high on their list of concerns, women say abortion rights, education, Social Security, health care, equal pay, job advancement and equal rights top theirs.
At the same time racial, gender, and economic tensions and fears are major forces behind white male devotion to the GOP; but they're hardly the only reason for their political love affair with the party.
Republicans have also played hard on the anger, frustration and hatred that many males harbor toward government, besides their devotion to military toughness.
The Tea Party, Sarah Palin, Fox News and the shrill pack of right-wing bloggers or talk show hosts have fanned and inflamed the antigovernment anger and borderline racism of many white males to power their movement.
This paid big dividends in the November midterm elections. Since the 1960s, when President Lyndon Baines Johnson, a Texas Democrat, backed civil rights legislation, it has been the trump card for Republican presidential victories, or fighting chances for losing GOP candidates, like McCain.
Win or lose, Republican presidential campaigns still bank heavily on the white-male vote. The Pew Center survey simply confirmed it’s not a false hope.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts the national Capitol Hill broadcast radio talk show on KTYM Radio Los Angeles (ktym.com) and WFAX Radio Washington, D.C., (wfax.com), as well as his Internet TV broadcast, thehutchinsonreportnews.com. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson.
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