McCain, Obama, and the Poor White Voter

I think the thing that most surprised me about Obama’s win is how small of a margin of victory that he got in the popular vote. It’s kind of hypocritical of me to say that, because only a couple of months ago I thought that the election was going to be close. But that was during the time that the hate-fest against Palin was at its strongest and before the 700 Billion dollar bailout.

I have long been predicting the current economic problems. But the speed at which they occurred took me by surprise. I did not think we would go from government officials saying that there was no problem to having over a trillion dollars of bailouts being promised in the space of a month. I mean, I expect government officials to lie when they move their lips, but that was a pretty big turnaround even by the standards of your typical political flip-flops.

The bailout put great strain on the coalition between poor white rural folk and wealthier suburban white folk that McCain had to maintain in order to have chance at winning the election. The wealthier McCain supporters were getting killed in the markets and they were desperate for the pain to stop. But McCain’s blue collar supporters were mad enough to chew nails. Nobody had bailed them out when the manufacturing jobs they depended on went the way of the dodo, yet here was their tax dollars going to bail out people who made more than they could hope to make in a lifetime. In effect, the bailout neutralized everything that McCain hoped to gain by appointing Palin as his running mate.

The Palin appointment was primarily aimed at those who where rural, white, and poor. These people had reason to feel economically abused by the Bush administration, yet they had reason to fear that they would be even more abused by a democratic president. The media never got this. They all thought that the Palin appointment was aimed at religious conservatives. But that was only a side benefit of the Palin appointment.

McCain always knew that religious conservatives would never vote for Obama. But he had no such assurances that the poor white rural voters would stay loyal to the Republican Party. If you look at where Palin was sent by the McCain campaign you will see that it was to areas where those types of voters would be found.

It seems to me that much of media coverage missed this distinction. To them, a poor white rural voter was obviously a religious fundamentalist. But demographers know that those people who take their religious doctrine seriously are most often found in the suburban middle class. Those are the type of people who tithe and never swear and that sort of thing.

By contrast the rural poor are socially conservative in only a vague sort of way. They go to church on Sunday but they go to the bar on Friday night. Their motto is “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.” In short, their beliefs rarely affect how they live.

Most media types don’t seem to get this distinction. They take a survey of what people say their beliefs are and assume that everyone who claims the same beliefs are the same.

But Obama seemed to get this distinction. Right from the very beginning he made a strong effort to take some of the rural poor white vote away from the Republicans. Neither Gore nor Kerry worked half as hard at getting poor whites to vote for them as Obama did.

Again and again Obama promised that he would not push gay marriage and he would not take people’s guns. He tried to reassure poor rural whites that he understood their values even if he differed with them on some particulars. And above all else, he promised that he would take care of their economic concerns.

I think that Obama’s strong early move for the poor rural vote is what drove McCain to pick Palin. He had to have known that if he did not do something drastic, poor rural white votes were going to desert him in droves. So he threw a Hail Mary pass, and chose a popular governor of a rural state whose family was the perfect archetype of the rural poor.

At first, McCain’s choice paid off in spades. The media coverage of Palin was some of the most nasty and bigoted stuff I have ever seen. Not only did they subject her personal life to more scrutiny then Obama, they also treated her more harshly then they treated McCain.

After all, McCain was the one who divorced his first wife on her sickbed. McCain was the one who had ties to a savings and loan scandal. But you rarely heard about those things in the national media. On the other hand, every little thing in Palin’s personal life was up for grabs. This double standard made even traditionally democratic voters amongst the rural white poor hopping mad. In few weeks, all Obama’s progress amongst them had been wiped out and then some.

I had to laugh when I read on liberal blogs people talking about how Palin’s out of wedlock pregnant teenage daughter was going to make religious conservatives rethink their support. It might have made some tithe-every-Sunday types a little uncomfortable. But for the bulk of the rural white poor, out of wedlock pregnant teenage daughters are as common as flat tires on their pickup trucks. Simply by making it an issue, the media did more to increase McCain’s support than any ad he could have run.

I think Obama realized this. He tried to distance himself from the attacks on Palin. But the hatred coming from the media and the liberal blogs was just too intense. Even though they were harming their own cause, they just could not tone it down. She drove them out of their minds with fury and Obama could not rein them in. And poor, rural, white support for Obama dropped like a rock.

But then the bailouts came. This had two effects. It helped tone down the coverage of Palin because reporters had other things to talk about and it gave poor rural white voters something else to get mad about. If you look back at the polls, you will see that before the bailout Obama had dropped to neck and neck with McCain in the polls. After the bailout, Obama clearly had the lead.

The bailout made poor rural white voters so mad that I am surprised that Obama did not take a larger share of the poor rural white voter then he did. But as it was, it was enough. Obama took 3% more of the white vote then Kerry did when he was running against George Bush. And the rest is history.

One Response to “McCain, Obama, and the Poor White Voter”

  1. […] _uacct = “UA-1202685-1”; urchinTracker(); Map of the Ethereal Land The Ethereal Voice Front Page – Politics – Money – Knowledge – Art – Food – Fun Masthead About McCain, Obama, and the Poor White Voter By Ape Man | November 5, 2008 – 9:57 pm Posted in Category: Front Page, Politics I think the thing that most surprised me about Obama’s win is how small of a margin of victory that he got in the popular vote. It’s kind of hypocritical of me to say that, because only a couple of months ago I thought that the election was going to be close. But that was Click Here to continue reading. […]

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