George Hawley, White Voters in 21st Century America, Routledge, 2014, 204 pp., $145.00 (hard cover), $54.95 (kindle).
This book is the first serious investigation of several questions that are very important to racially conscious whites. George Hawley of the University of Alabama, who has written perceptively about the crackup of the post-war conservative movement, dares to ask, “Will whites begin to view themselves as possessing collective interests and organize politically to advance those interests?” Is there–or will there ever be–a “white vote,” just as there are black, Asian, and Hispanic votes? Is the 59 percent of the white vote Mitt Romney won in 2012 a ceiling or will that percentage continue to grow? Could the Republican Party ever explicitly court the white vote?
This book examines these question from virtually every angle and finds them surprisingly hard to answer. This is nevertheless a very valuable study that both confirms and discredits assumptions white dissidents have about white voters. Donald Trump’s campaign could learn a lot from this book.
The dwindling white electorate
Prof. Hawley starts by pointing out that “in the early 1960s, discussing ‘white voters’ in the United States would have been redundant”–there was hardly anyone else. Not anymore. Near-monolithic non-white support for Democrats means that Republican presidential candidates who don’t win large majorities of whites don’t have a chance.
In 2012, Mitt Romney won 59 percent of the white vote–a figure that would have produced a landslide victory in the 1960s–but still lost. No candidate in American history has ever done so well with whites and failed to win. If Gerald Ford or George H.W. Bush had won that much of the white vote, they would have been reelected. With 59 percent, Bob Dole would have beaten Bill Clinton. It has been more than half a century since a Democrat won a majority of the white vote–Lyndon Johnson in 1964–which means that every Democrat victory since then meant that whites did not get the president they wanted. The reason, of course, is the growing non-white vote combined with a steady decline in the white percentage of American voters.
The Republican reaction to these losses–at least until the rise of Donald Trump–has been to fret about the need to “engage” non-white voters. As Prof. Hawley points out, pursuing non-whites without changing policies won’t work, while pursuing them and changing policies would probably drive away whites. He also notes that although Democrats have been steadily losing white voters, no one thinks that’s even interesting, much less an indictment. It’s only Republicans who need to “reach out.”
Dissident whites argue that Republicans should forget about non-whites, and work harder for their natural supporters, who are white. They think that white turnout has declined in the last two presidential elections because whites are so disgusted with cuckolded Republicans they don’t vote. Dissidents also argue that a strong appeal to whites could surely get a few more percent of them to vote GOP, and that getting one percent more of the white vote is the equivalent of 7 percent more of the Hispanic vote. They argue that with strong support from whites, Republicans could dominate national politics, slow or even stop dispossession, and ensure Republican presidents–and sane Supreme Court justices–for years to come. Are they right?
Is there a “white vote?”
One obvious problem is that Republicans don’t have the stomach to appeal to whites. But even if they did, Prof. Hawley suggests it might not work–and not, I believe, because he deliberately wants to thwart white interests. He looks at the data and the data are ambiguous. “If a party is attempting to pursue a policy agenda that maximizes the ‘white vote,’ ” he writes, “it will be relatively difficult to develop a platform that pleases large majorities of all whites.”
It would be possible, however, to base a campaign squarely on the issues on which whites are most likely to agree, and the table below shows what some of them are. The first column of numbers shows the views of whites, and a candidate could go down the list finding areas of greatest white agreement on which to base a campaign. The policy choices are listed in order of how much non-whites disagree with whites, but the main purpose would be to appeal to whites. If non-white voters liked the same policies, so much the better. If need be, a campaign of this kind could be designed deliberately to appeal to whites without ever mentioning race.
Such an approach would mean butchering several Republican sacred cows: Solid majorities of whites want higher taxes on millionaires and corporations, and more acceptance of homosexuals. Majorities of both whites and non-whites lean in this direction. But a campaign should strongly oppose “affirmative action,” welfare and child-care spending, increased immigration, and gun control even if that drives away non-whites. Very few non-whites are going to vote for a Republican anyway, and the point is to rally as many whites as possible. There are probably data on white preferences in other areas, such as foreign policy, and a candidate should include those planks in his platform, too.
One obstacle to wooing a national “white vote” is regional differences in opinion. As the table below shows, there can be a state-to-state gap of as much as 44.5 percent in how whites view certain policies. This table again confirms that the Republican call for lower taxes is not supported by a majority of white voters in even a single state. Whites everywhere like the idea of a border wall, so that should be a key policy. In 2008, there was great state-to-state variation in views on same-sex marriage, but the Supreme Court has settled that question. Whites almost everywhere take a liberal view on homosexuals, so the GOP should just shut up about them.
State differences resulted in dramatically different results in 2012. In Mississippi, 89 percent of whites voted for Mr. Romney (96 percent of blacks voted for Mr. Obama), whereas in Vermont, 66 percent of whites voted for Mr. Obama. The whites in Mississippi and Vermont are practically different species. Despite his strong popularity with whites, Mr. Romney lost the white vote in Oregon, Massachusetts (where Romney had been governor) and Washington State. An appeal to “white” issues could be adjusted to some degree locally, but a consistent, national appeal would fail in certain states.
The true extent of white heterogeneity appears when American regions are artificially drawn to exaggerate differences. This map, created by Colin Woodard, corresponds to the areas indicated in the table.
There are very sharp differences in such things as gun ownership and approval of the Iraq war. (“Conservatism” is measured on a five-point scale, with high numbers meaning more conservative. “Favorability” is on an eight-point scale.)
Whites are unlike voters of other races because they disagree so much more among themselves. It is this variation that Prof. Hawley points to in warning that an appeal to whites would not be easy to craft.
How divided is the white electorate?
Whites are divided by party affiliation and ideology, and it is common to say that they are also hopelessly divided along lines of sex, class, wealth, etc. Prof. Hawley finds this is not true. Class, for example, is a lot less important than race in determining American voter preferences. College educated whites are 36 percent Republican and 28 percent Democrat. Whites without college are not that much different: 34 percent Republican and 27 percent Democrat. The stereotype of white Democrats as overeducated twits and white Republicans as rednecks is a myth. Education likewise has surprisingly little effect on ideology. On a scale of “conservatism” that runs from 0 to 6 with 6 being the most conservative, whites without college are 3.5 and college grads are 3.3.
Wealth and class do affect political opinions, but not as much as one might expect. The following table shows that wealth has the predicted effect on attitudes towards government spending: Poor whites and those with less education want more Social Security and programs for the poor, but otherwise whites do not diverge sharply according to social class.
“Progressives” complain that lower-class whites do not vote Democrat as much as they “should,” and they are right. In 2012, Mitt Romney won the 10 poorest states, whereas Mr. Obama won rich states such as New Hampshire and Connecticut. Prof. Hawley explains that, if anything, different classes of whites are becoming more similar in their political preferences.
Nor is there much of a sex gap for white voters: 62 percent of white men and 56 percent of white women voted for Romney. Non-whites voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Obama, but had a larger sex gap. White men and women have surprisingly similar views on “women’s issues,” such as abortion and government-funded daycare. However, there are sex differences in “violence”-related policies: Men want more policing, a stronger military, and fewer restrictions on gun ownership. To the extent that there are sex differences among white voters, it is because more white men than women have left the Democrat Party, and men have become more conservative while women have not changed much since about 1980.
Prof. Hawley reports another surprise: “There are few interesting or substantive gaps between whites of different ages.” At all ages, a consistent 35 percent of whites identify as Republican, and the range in identification as Democrat varies from 25 to 35 percent. When people say that Millennials are overwhelmingly Democrat, those figures are skewed by the huge numbers of young non-whites who vote Democrat.
Marriage is one of the most reliable predictors of how whites vote. Mitt Romney won only 44 percent of single white women but 62 percent of married white women. He won 51 percent of single white men and 65 percent of married white men. Bachelors vote more like single women than like married men. As this table shows, marital status also predicts white ideology, and the marriage gap extends to many different policy preferences. When other traits such as wealth, education, urban/rural are held constant, the sex or age of a white person does not tell us much about how he will vote. Marital status does.
But does marriage make people more conservative or are conservative people more likely to marry? The marriage rate is declining rapidly: In 1960, 72 percent of all adults over 18 were married, but in 2010, only 51 percent were. Cohabitation is much more accepted, so liberal whites may simply be shucking marriage.
Another strong predictor of white political preference is rates of religious observance. Born-again Protestants who go to church frequently are four times more likely than non-churchgoers to be Republican. Likewise, a strong majority of whites who say “grace” before a meal are Republican, and the overwhelming majority of those who never say “grace” are Democrat. This was not always the case. As late as the 1970s there were strongly religious Democrats, but the rise of the Religious Right in the 1990s seems to have hastened the virtual extinction of fervent white Christian Democrats.
In the 1930s, there were sharp political differences between white Catholics (Democrat) and Protestants (Republican). Even in 1972, 64.3 percent of white Catholics were Democrat, but that number had shrunk to just 28 percent by 2006, very close to the figure for Protestants.
The connection between faith and politics is completely different for people of other races. Blacks are the most intensely church-going race but are overwhelmingly Democrat. Asians are the least church-going race but are also overwhelmingly Democrat.
What about white turnout?
White voter turnout is declining. In 2004, 67.2 percent of whites voted. In 2008, the figure was 66.1 percent, and in 2012 it was 64.1 percent. Whites used to vote at higher rates than any other race, but in the last two elections they were bested by blacks, who turned out to vote for Mr. Obama. It is conventional wisdom among dissidents that white turnout declined because whites were disgusted by the choice between a liberal black and a neutered white.
Prof. Hawley points out that it is hard to know for whom those missing whites would have voted, and that there are reasons to think a good many were Obama supporters. This table shows which groups of whites dropped out between 2008 and 2012. White voters ages 65 and over actually increased their turnout, and they were the group most likely to vote for Mr. Romney. And those whose turnout dropped the most–those aged 18 to 29–were groups most likely to vote for Obama. If it was white former Obama supporters who didn’t vote, the increase from 2008 to 2012 in the white percentage who voted GOP could mean that Mr. Obama simply lost support among some whites, not that whites defected from Mr. Obama to vote for Mr. Romney.
One study found that there was a significant drop in turnout among northern whites who were not Evangelicals–another group that had supported Mr. Obama. Mr. Hawley speculates that Mr. Obama’s comments on the Cambridge arrest of Henry Louis Gates and the shooting of Trayvon Martin, along with Eric Holder’s black partisanship, could have discouraged some white Democrats without actually driving them into the Republican camp.
Interestingly, Prof. Hawley reports that polls do not find an increase in white conservatism or identification as Republicans between 2008 and 2012, which we would expect if “racist” whites were growing tired of having a black man in the White House.
The fact that Mr. Romney is Mormon could have influenced the white vote. If we assume that being a Mormon is generally a disadvantage, it could have been another reason for white Republicans to stay home, while it would have given white Obama supporters an additional reason to vote for him.
The decline in white turnout was not consistent. It dropped the most from 2008 to 2012 in Alaska (7.3 percent), probably because Sarah Palin was not on the ballot in 2012. It rose the most in Utah (5.4 percent), no doubt because Mr. Romney was the candidate. Some neighboring states went in opposite directions. From 2008 to 2012, white turnout increased 1.5 percent in Kansas but dropped 5.6 percent next door in Nebraska. It was up 3.4 percent in Mississippi, but dropped 7.2 percent in neighboring Louisiana. Of the 10 states with the greatest decline in white voting, seven went for Romney.
There are, nevertheless, reasons to think that the dissident view is correct, and that lower white turnout reflects increased racial consciousness among whites, which leads to disaffection with American politics. There is something called the “racial resentment” scale, in which whites are asked to agree or disagree with the following sentiments: (1) Others worked their way up, so blacks should do the same without asking for special favors. (2) Slavery and discrimination make it hard for blacks to work their way up. (3) Over the past few years, blacks have gotten less than they deserve. (4) If blacks just tried harder they would be just as well off as whites. (Agreeing with this last statement is supposed to show anti-black “resentment,” but race realists would probably disagree because black achievement is limited by IQ.)
Other polling over the years has asked whites directly whether they think blacks are held back by genetic reasons. The number of whites who agree is small and declining, but the number who refuse to blame whites for black failure is large and growing.
“Racial resentment” (RR) is scored between 0 and 1, with 1 meaning the most RR. The average white RR score rose from 0.65 in 2008 to 0.67 in 2012, and it rose the most among the youngest cohort, bringing it to 0.64, which is very close to the white average. This runs counter to the view that young whites are hopelessly liberal on race. High RR scores are correlated with a higher likelihood to identify as a Republican, and the correlation is especially high for the youngest whites.
In 2012, whites with the highest RR scores were only half as likely to vote as those with the lowest RR scores. Furthermore, as we saw above, the turnout rate for young whites dropped the most from 2008 to 2012. The age gap–the young usually do not vote at the same rates as their elders–disappeared in 2008, but it returned in 2012. Since RR rose for the youngest whites more quickly than for others between those two elections, it suggests that Mr. Obama’s first term may have been especially demoralizing for young whites and may have encouraged them to stay home in 2012.
RR is highest in the South, and the gap between the South and other regions is not narrowing. Interestingly, high levels of RR are associated with strong support for the death penalty.
There is further evidence that “racist” whites stayed home. If people have a sense of “political efficacy” (PE) it means they think they can make a difference in politics. PE is measured by answers to such questions as, “Public officials don’t care much what people like me think.” In 2008, 60 percent of whites agreed with that statement; by 2012 the figure had risen to 68 percent. For whites, the higher the rate of RR, the lower the sense of PE, and the lower the sense of PE, the lower the turnout, suggesting that many AmRen readers, for example, may have simply been disgusted in 2012 and stayed home.
At the same time, some whites must have decided they made a mistake in voting for Mr. Obama in 2008, and switched to his opponent in 2012. The decline in turnout for white men between the two elections was 1.6 percent, but their support for Obama dropped by 6 percent. Prof. Hawley cautions that the figures are from different sources and have a considerable margin of error, but if they are both accurate it means that at least 4.4 percent of white men who voted for Mr. Obama in 2008 defected to Mr. Romney in 2012.
Do whites react to demographic change?
It is common in dissident circles to assume that white consciousness–and therefore Republican affiliation–increases along with the number of non-whites. Prof. Hawley describes an experiment in Boston designed to test the reactions of whites. Large numbers of young, Spanish-speaking immigrants were paid to ride the subway for a few days. White riders were polled before and after the experiment, and those polled afterwards were more likely to say they favored immigration control and expulsion of illegals.
However, voting patterns do not necessarily support the view that whites react to immigrants. At the state level, for example, West Virginia and New Hampshire are both very white but one state is heavily Republican and the other heavily Democrat. Texas and California are very “diverse,” but whites in the two states vote very differently. Prof. Hawley argues that the white Republican vote in Texas may be due to its more “Southern” nature, and suggests that a comparison between California and Arizona whites is more instructive. Both states are about equally “diverse,” but Arizona whites are considerably more Republican than California whites. Why?
Compared to white Texans, white Arizonans have higher marriage rates, higher fertility, are more likely to own their homes, and are less unionized. It seems that state-level diversity doesn’t seem to affect white voter choice. White Californians are more heavily democratic because they are more likely to have the characteristics that make whites vote Democratic.
Whites are only 35 percent of the electorate in Washington, DC. They might be expected to express their beleaguered status by voting Republican, but only 12 percent of them voted for Romney.
Of course, the federal district is not typical of the United States, and states may not be the correct geographic units for comparison. Neighborhood diversity probably has more impact on white attitudes than state diversity. Unfortunately, counties are the smallest units for which both voting patterns and “diversity” data are available, and at that level the demographic mix seems to have very little impact on white voter choice. After controlling for other variables, there seems to be only a slight tendency for whites who live in heavily Hispanic counties to vote Republican. Sex or marital status are much better predictors of voting preferences than demographic mix.
Southerners may react more strongly to the presence of non-whites, at least to blacks. When Southern whites are asked whether they think black government officials are likely be biased in favor of blacks constituents, the number who agree correlates very strongly with the percentage of blacks in the area. The correlation is strong across all age groups, although the very oldest are slightly more likely than others to agree.
What future for white voters?
Prof. Hawley sees several possible outcomes as whites become a minority. The example of California, where they are already a minority but do not vote overwhelmingly Republican (Mr. Obama won the white vote there in 2008), suggests that a monolithic, national “white vote” might never emerge. He also points out that “even if whites become increasingly racist in the coming years there is not presently an effective vehicle to channel that racism in a productive political direction.” He notes that the GOP is terrified of charges of “racism,” and could resist becoming the home of disaffected whites:
Will whites become frustrated with a party that concludes, after every loss, that it needs to engage in greater minority outreach? While it is unlikely that any white voter who is dissatisfied with the GOP because it was insufficiently pro-white will become a Democrat, it would not be a surprise if such people simply stayed home on Election Day. The low turnout among whites with high levels of racial resentment in 2012 may indicate that this is already happening.
Prof. Hawley continues: “While it makes sense to speculate whether the Republican Party can survive as the ‘white party’ . . . it is also worth asking whether the GOP can remain the white party without eventually becoming more explicitly pro-white.” If its salvation as a national party requires pro-white appeals but it is too cowardly to make them, at the federal level the United States will become a single-party state. If Texas ever turns reliably Democrat like California, the GOP is probably finished as a national party. Federal policies and federal judges would be relentlessly “progressive,” and all local conservative or pro-white measures would be crushed by federal regulation or thrown out by judges.
Prof. Hawley notes that the main traits that predict white support for the GOP are all in decline: marriage, religious observance, being white. Only one is increasing, and that is racial resentment. If white racial consciousness grows and Republicans harness it, they could stay in contention at the national level, but American elections will increasingly become a racial headcount–as they already are in states such as Mississippi, where race predicts political preference with almost perfect accuracy.
What this means for Donald Trump
Whites still cast more than two-thirds of the votes in national elections. They could theoretically choose the president even if every non-white voted against them. Donald Trump will win if he turns out whites in unprecedented numbers and persuades them to vote for him. His best chance is to keep hammering at his signature issues: build a wall, throw out illegals, get rid of birthright citizenship, keep out Muslims. All this strongly appeals to white “racial resentment” and gives a sense of “political efficacy,” thus solving the two problems that almost certainly account for part of the drop in white voter turnout. Mr. Trump could set new turnout records in the general election, just as he did in the primaries.
Mr. Trump may even be able to win over some of the worst renegades: single white women. Just as he did at the national convention, he should put his glamorous wife and children to work whenever possible. Women care deeply about the opinions of other women–especially beautiful women. Heartfelt endorsements by Ivanka, Melania, and perhaps even Tiffany would help with both white men and women.
As noted above, Republicans push policies whites don’t like when they call for lower taxes on millionaires and corporations, and are rude to homosexuals. Mr. Trump blew a big hole in Republican orthodoxy with his openness to higher taxes, and he is nicer to homosexuals than many other Republicans. This increases his appeal to whites. Many whites are also suspicious of trade deals and, again, Mr. Trump takes their side.
Whether by calculation or instinct, Mr. Trump has crafted an excellent appeal to whites. He could make it even better. If he is smart, he will heap scorn on the Black Lives Matter movement. Despite constant anti-white media cheerleading, whites overwhelmingly supported the jury verdict in the Zimmerman trial and the decision not to indict the officer who shot Michael Brown. They were outraged by the Ferguson and Baltimore riots and are furious when blacks murder policemen.
Mr. Trump has already been called a “fascist” and “racist.” He might as well stoke up “racial resentment” to 110 degrees in the shade. The young whites who usually do not vote–and who, as noted above, are not that ideologically different from their parents–might flock to the polls. If Mr. Trump then added a slashing attack on “affirmative action”–which even majorities of non-whites reportedly oppose–it would be the perfect platform to galvanize whites.
Current polling suggests that Mr. Trump is trailing Mrs. Clinton. Many voters, including many white voters, hate him. However, a strong campaign on policies most whites support could put him over the top. His strategists should read White Voters in 21st Century America.