After the American electorate wades through the scintillating debate about which presidential candidate is less patriotic than the other, some voters may display an interest in picking one of them to vote for.
A recent article in The New Republic argues that Mr. Bush’s main accomplishment as the leader of the Republican Party has been to lose the white working class base that has served as the backbone of GOP presidential victories since the days of Richard Nixon.
The New Republic, of course, is a liberal and pro-Democratic magazine, and it’s to be congratulated on discovering what I have been saying for years. But what’s interesting about the article, “White Flight” by John Judis and political scientist Ruy Teixeira, is why the president has lost this base: The war in Iraq. [BUSH LOSES HIS BASE. White Flight by John B. Judis & Ruy Teixeira [free version] 08.02.04]
As the authors note, “Alienated by the civil rights movement, and later by antiwar protestors and feminists, white, working-class voters began transferring their loyalty from New Deal Democrats to conservative Republicans in the 1960s,” and the white working class—Middle American Radicals as some started calling them not long after—“gave large majorities to Richard Nixon in 1972, Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984, and George H.W. Bush in 1988.”
As late as 2000, Al Gore lost these voters like most of his recent predecessors. Today those happy days may be gone forever.
Patriotism and dislike of anti-American forces—communist or Muslim, foreign or domestic—are among the main sentiments that drive these voters, which is why they dropped away from a Democratic Party that seemed to flirt with treason. When the 9/11 attacks came along, no group was more supportive of strong measures against the nation’s enemies than white Middle Americans, and no group liked Mr. Bush’s initial response more than they did.
In June, 2003, as the authors note, just after the war with Iraq was over, Gallup polls showed that “65 percent of white, working-class voters thought it was ‘worth going to war’ in Iraq, while only 33 percent disagreed.”
But by late May, 2004, a year later , “only 52 percent thought the war was worth fighting, and 46 percent thought it was not.”Among white workers with some college background, the swing “was even more dramatic ,” with approval of the war dropping “from 70 to 30 percent in favor of the war to only 52 to 46 percent, a 34-point swing.”
That swing on the war doesn’t necessarily tell you who these voters are going to support, but there are polls that do—or might, if the Republicans don’t wise up.
“In late May and early June [of this year],” the authors write,“Gallup polls showed white, working-class voters, who had favored Bush over Gore by 17 percent in 2000, favoring him over Kerry by an average of only 50 to 42 percent.”
Mr. Bush still leads, but nowhere close to where he used to be among these voters—or where he needs to be if he’s going to win the election.
And the news for him may be even worse than the figures show.
As Mr. Judis and Mr. Teixeira point out, these Middle American voters “make up the bulk of voters in many battleground states.” In states like West Virginia, Missouri and Pennsylvania, they are anywhere from 60 percent to 74 percent of the electorate. “If Bush wins white, working-class voters in the battleground states by more than ten points, he should carry most of them. But, if his advantage falls below this margin, he will be in trouble. And that’s what seems to be happening.”
The Gallup poll figures they cite, as they also acknowledge, are national figures, but in the battleground states Mr. Bush needs to win, these voters are traditionally more Democratic anyway. There “one has to assume Bush’s margins are even smaller—and perhaps non-existent.”
That’s the arithmetic. The flesh and blood of the question is more graphic, as the interviews the authors had with Middle Americans show. Most say they supported the war at first, and most continue to sport flags and patriotic bumper stickers.
But their views of the war have changed. “They shouldn’t have gone over there,” says one man; “But now I don’t think we had any reason to go over there,” says his wife. “I don’t think it is helping us at all,” says another. “I have just one thing to say,” a housewife tells them. “Bring my son home.”
These are not left-wing peaceniks. They are the spinal cord of the nation—and of the GOP.
Thanks to George W. Bush, that cord is beginning to snap.