September 15, 2008


The One-Sided Culture War: Polls suggest that the Republicans succeeded more than the Democrats in dividing the electorate along the lines they prefer. (Ronald Brownstein, 9/13/08, National Journal)

Each party made clear at its convention how it wants to divide the electorate. Democrats sought to segment the voters by class. They presented Obama (the "son of a single mom") and running mate Joe Biden (the "scrappy kid from Scranton") as working-class heroes who would defend the middle-class because they are products of it. The Democrats portrayed McCain as an out-of-touch economic elitist who doesn't understand the interests of average families.

Republicans sought to segment the voters along cultural lines. They presented McCain as the personification of timeless values--honor and duty. Far more importantly (and effectively), they introduced vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin as an embodiment of small-town America who champions conservative social values not only in public life but also in her private life. They completed the picture with tough national security messages that usually resonate loudest with the same traditionalist voters most attracted to conservative social positions. Meanwhile, the Republicans portrayed Obama as an out-of-touch cultural elitist who belittles small towns like Palin's Wasilla as not "cosmopolitan enough." [...]

An array of surveys released this week show McCain dominating among economically pressed but culturally conservative (and generally hawkish) white working-class voters, just as President Bush did in 2004. In the Diageo/Hotline daily tracking survey this week, Obama was winning just 30 percent of white men without a college education, even lower than the meager 35 percent share that exit polls recorded for John Kerry in 2004. Among white noncollege women, Obama was attracting just 37 percent, down from Kerry's 40 percent. Among "waitress moms" (married white women without college degrees), Obama was polling just 33 percent in the Diageo/Hotline survey, no improvement on Kerry's anemic 32 percent.

It was possible to sympathize for awhile with Democrats for failing to realize that running on the French model of class envy had stopped working in the 1940s and that our elections had returned to culture. After all, if you ignored the assassination of JFK you could convince yourself that the re-election of LBJ meant the New Deal era hadn't ended. Of course, LBJ couldn't even run in '68 because he governed as if that were true and the only Democrats elected since have been religious Southern governors...

But at this point, after Al Gore ran to Bill Bradley's Left and lost and after nominating one losing Northern liberal after another--Stevenson, Humphrey, McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis, Kerry--isn't it past time they figured out that their recipe is one for disaster? Isn't the revealing statistic there how badly Kerry did with whites, not how similarly badly Mr. Obama is doing?

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 15, 2008 10:48 AM
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