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Has the GOP Finally Lost the Faith of Working Class Whites?

The GOP’s goal of recapturing the White House in 2012 is looking less likely in the aftermath of Ohio’s SB5 repeal. Voting results show that many working class Whites broke party lines to vote against the measure. As the GOP distances itself from Labor in a time of economic hardship, their relationship with working class White America seems to have been strained. This topic was written about by Henry Olsen for The Weekly Standard. Olsen argues that without this demographic it is nearly impossible for Republicans to win in 2012, despite growing consensus that Mitt Romney has a shot. Recent polling shows that Romney does not fare well with non-college white grads, a group that generally trends Republican:

As in any troubled relationship, the cause of the GOP’s difficulties is simple: failure to listen to the other’s needs. On issue after issue, the opinions of the GOP’s conservative base are out of step with those of white working-class independents. Rather than grasp this fact, however, many Republican political leaders have listened solely to the base and ignored the other partner in the marriage.

The chief example is the Ohio referendum that repealed the GOP’s elimination of public-sector unions’ collective bargaining rights. Properly recognizing that public-sector unions have driven up compensation to unaffordable levels, union reform was a top priority of the GOP base. Ohio voters, however, disagreed by a 61-39 percent margin.

A close examination of the results shows how widespread the repudiation was. Repeal was narrowly endorsed in only six counties, all strongly Republican. Everywhere else, the margin of repeal was high. Turnout was also high, about 90 percent of the 2010 total, and slightly skewed to Republican regions of the state. In a state where half the voters are whites without a college degree, the conclusion is inescapable: The white working-class independents who voted en masse for Ohio Republicans 12 months ago nearly unanimously rejected the state GOP’s top priority.

How can Republicans rebuild the bridges they have burned and the ties they cut in attacking collective bargaining and pursuing Right-to-Work? The high turnout in Ohio shows that moderate Republicans and Independents who turned out in droves in 2010 are unlikely to vote the same way in 2012, if they choose to vote at all. For the GOP to win it needs a strong showing of support from middle class America, specifically in the battleground states of Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. These three states are traditionally blue collar, predominantly white and have a history of indicating a great deal about the outcome of presidential elections.

All three states elected “Tea Party” governors in 2010 and the working class Whites who voted them in have returned to the fence. This same group is the exact group Republicans need in order to squeak out a victory in 2012. There will be no landslide. The aforementioned numbers show that this group is now more concerned with jobs and the economy than the deficit.

Avoiding the deficit now means America will turn into Italy later. Conservative Republicans need to understand why white working-class independents disagree with them. They need to see if there is a way to bring the white working class on board.

Even if Republicans find the right message, though, a messenger has to be able to deliver it. That’s the Democrats’ problem right now: President Obama is saying what white working-class independents want to hear​—​they just don’t find him credible.

This brings us to Mitt Romney. Is he the man to court white working-class independents, or is he the GOP’s Obama, a man unable to connect with the voters he needs?

Recent polling shows the difficulty Romney has been having with working class Whites compared to “generic Republican candidates.”

…a recent Wall Street Journal poll confirms that Romney’s problem extends to white working-class independents as well. The poll, released last week, found that an unnamed generic Republican beats President Obama among the white working class by 12 points, 48 percent to 36 percent. Paired with Romney, however, Obama runs even at 44 percent.

Despite all their advantages, Republicans won only 52 percent of the popular vote in the House last year. They achieved this total because of their record-high 63 percent to 33 percent margin of victory among the white working class. In other words, if the Republican nominee’s share of the white working-class vote slips below 60 percent, there is virtually no chance he will get a majority of the national popular vote in 2012. If the share slips closer to McCain’s 58 percent in 2008, Obama’s reelection is assured.

The question then becomes one of Obama’s turnout margins: will Obama supporters flood the polls like they did in ’08? Will labor go to bat for the President who signed three trade deals (and counting) and snubbed Keystone XL? Will the socially conscious elderly pull the lever for the man whose term saw entitlement cuts placed “on the table”?


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