Posted on September 24, 2008

Study: Dems Need White Vote Gain

David Paul Kuhn, The Politico, September 24, 2008

In an election year where Barack Obama pledged to change the electorate, the centrist Democratic Leadership Council has weighed into the debate with a detailed report arguing it will be difficult for Obama to earn enough African American and youth support to compensate for enduring Democratic failures with white voters.

The report, titled “Who are the swing voters,” finds that the party must make historic inroads with working class whites in order to create a sustainable presidential majority.

It’s hardly news that the Democratic Party has struggled with white voters. Democrats have not won a majority of whites since 1964. Since 1980 though, Democrats have struggled to even remain competitive among whites, particularly men, and that has allowed Republicans to dominate the last quarter century of presidential politics.

The DLC set out in its analysis, an early draft of which was provided to Politico, to investigate the most influential swing blocs for Democrats. It concluded that slight but significant gains with working class whites—who constitute four in ten voters and were defined by the DLC as white high school graduates without a four-year college degree—is the best means to enlarge the Democratic coalition.


The report calculates that a 10 percent increase in black voter turnout amounts to a 1-percentage point uptick in the overall electorate, assuming all other groups remain constant.

That means that if the black voting rate rises from 60 percent to 67.2, the level of whites as measured by the Census Bureau, it amounts to 1.7 million votes—less than George W. Bush’s margin of victory in 2004.


The report, authored by Al From and Victoria Lynch, described black voters, self-identified liberals, and “strongly pro-choice” voters as the most influential legs of the Democratic coalition.


The report strongly suggests, however, that it will be difficult for the Obama campaign to win if he does not improve Democrats’ appeal to the white working class.

The report also paints two blocs of working class whites:

“A typical male voter in that category will likely be between 30 and 59 years old, live in a suburb or small town in the South or Midwest, and be married with no children living at home. He’s likely to be a Republican or independent, moderate or conservative, not a member of a labor union, pro-life, and in favor smaller government. Finally, he’s most likely to be Protestant but not a weekly churchgoer.”

“His female counterpart has an only slightly different profile. She’s also likely to be between the ages of 30 and 59, married with no children living at home, a Republican or independent, moderate or conservative, not a member of a union, pro-life, and for smaller government. She’s most likely to live in a suburb in the South and have a gun in her household. Finally, she’s more likely to be Catholic and a weekly churchgoer.”

Obama did poorest in the Democratic primaries with white working class voters. {snip}

It was Obama’s capacity to add the near-uniform support of the black vote to his coalition—something Democrats like Hart and Dean could not accomplish—that polling indicates earned him enough voters to narrowly defeat Clinton.

In 2004, Democrat John Kerry lost working class white men by 30 percentage points and working class white women by 19 points—using the DLC’s definition. In 2000, Bush won working class white men by 31 points and working class white women by 9 points.

According to the DLC’s definition of the white working class, the most recent poll by the Pew Research Center for People & the Press finds that McCain is winning women by 18 points and men by 23 points. It appears some traditional GOP white voters remain undecided, leaving Obama’s support low but also McCain’s.

These voters are not only larger portions of the electorate in key swing states like Michigan and Ohio, but as the DLC emphasizes the white working class gap matters nationally because they remain roughly 40 percent of voters. In 2004, working class white men were 18 percent of the electorate while working class white women were another 22 percent.

By comparison, all Latino voters amounted to 8 percent of the electorate in 2004 while blacks accounted for another 11 percent.