Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama faced the problem in 2008. And now President Obama in his re-election bid faces the same problem. The majority of whites still will not accept his presidency.
The latest Associated Press-GfK (Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications ) polls once again told in stark numbers that the racial gap is just as big and daunting for Obama. The overwhelming majority of white independent voters say he does not deserve to be re-elected. An equally large majority of whites say they don’t like the job that he’s doing, especially on the economy. And overall, nearly 60 percent of whites will not support his reelection.
The hopeful news is this could change in the more than a year run-up to the November 2012 presidential election with the constant shifts and swings in voter attitudes, perceptions and events.
In any other election cycle and with any other president and presidential candidate, this pattern would hold true. The brutal fact is that the resistance to candidate Obama and President Obama from the majority of whites has been constant and unyielding.
This seems tough to believe, and even tougher to accept for several reasons. The myth that Obama made a major and lasting breakthrough in getting millions of whites to vote for him replaced the brutal fact that the majority of whites did not support him. In 2008, GOP Presidential candidate John McCain got nearly 60 percent of the white vote. Though this represented a significant inroad for Obama, in that he did better than Democratic presidential contenders Al Gore and John Kerry in 2000 and 2004 respectively, McCain’s getting the majority of the white vote was enough to keep him relatively competitive.
The first warning sign that Obama’s white support has been shaky and tenuous, cropped up not with McCain but with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton during the Democratic presidential primaries. In Pennsylvania and Ohio, Clinton drubbed Obama with the white vote. Many white Democratic blue collar voters openly said that they would not vote for Obama not because of any great love for Clinton, but because he was black. It took a near holy crusade turnout by black voters in both states to seal Obama’s win in the two key states and ultimately the White House.
The monumental GOP sex and corruption scandals, the towering domestic and foreign policy blunders of Bush, a collapsed economy, two costly and unpopular wars were not enough to decisively reverse the trend that a majority of whites, especially white males, will not back a Democrat, and in this case a black Democrat.
The shaky ground that Obama’s white voter support rested on eroded quickly at the first hint of trouble. The faint grumbles that Obama was too nice, too conciliatory, too indecisive and had no plan on the economy fanned by the borderline racist taunts of the Tea Party members, the pack of right wing professional Obama baiters on blogs, websites and radio talk shows grew quickly to crescendo pitch.
A Pew Research Center survey in April backed that up. White males still by big margins either disapproved or strongly disapproved of the president’s job performance. The continued high disapproval ratings among this group was even more glaring since it came at the point where more Americans than in the past year said they approved of Obama’s performance. But that did not include a majority of white males.
President Obama can’t do much more to ease the doubts and fears of many whites that he vowed to fulfill his duty as president of all the people, and to do the best job he can on legislation and public policy to serve the needs of all constituencies. He has even repeatedly drawn the wrath of the Congressional Black Caucus, publicly resisting their loud appeals for him to do and say more about the crisis of black joblessness and poverty. He’s paid a price for that as his approval ratings have dropped among blacks. But his unswerving race neutral, low-keyed, scrupulously non-confrontational, approach to presidential governance has meant absolutely nothing when it comes to changing the attitudes of many white voters. It’s in part the ancient mix of white suspicions and doubts about black competence, intelligence and ability, pure blind, naked bigotry, and unease with an African-American holding the world’s most visible and important political power position.
The GOP has played hard on the anger, frustration, and hatred that many males harbor toward government and their swoon over military toughness. And for four decades before that, it has been the trump card for winning GOP presidents.
It’s paying dividends again. Despite deep doubts among voters about the competence, credibility and even electability of the crop of GOP presidential candidates, polls show they are still in a neck-to-neck race with Obama. Race is not the only explanation for this, but it can never be discounted as a factor as long as Obama’s white problem exists.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson
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