Posted on November 4, 2010

Republican Reliance on White Voters Holds Risks

Henry Olsen, Bloomberg, November 3, 2010


The party didn’t win this election because of any enthusiasm gap between their backers and Democratic supporters, as had been long predicted. {snip}

The election results were instead due to a massive swing among independents, particularly those in rural and exurban counties. Exit polls showed that independents favored Republicans by 16 points, a turnabout from 2008 when they favored Democrats by about the same margin.

Exit polls identified the primary source of the landslide: white working-class voters. This group, defined as whites who aren’t college graduates, has voted Republican in presidential contests but often split tickets to elect Democratic congressmen. This time they supported Republicans for Congress by a record 29 points, more than for any of the party’s recent presidential nominees.

Ousting Incumbents

This working-class anger drew in even those who normally vote Democratic, as we can see by looking at the specific districts Republicans won.


This crop of new Republican backers presents the party with unique challenges, if it wants to hold on to them.


Obama Versus Nixon

Republicans need to take this challenge seriously. Working-class whites voted Republican primarily because they intensely dislike President Obama. Polls of the white working class electorate this year put Obama’s approval rating at close to 30 percent, or just a few points higher than President Richard Nixon’s in the days before his resignation.

Republicans will need every one of those votes because other, worrisome trends in the electorate continued this year. Polls showed that, even with the depth of the recession, Republicans captured only about 10 percent of blacks’ support and a third of Hispanics’, no better than in other years.

The Latino share of the electorate reached 8 percent, a record high for a mid-term election, while black turnout dropped from its high of 13 percent in 2008 to its historic 10 percent level this year. If Latinos continue to grow as a group, and blacks turn out in droves again to re-elect Obama, the Republican nominee in 2012 will be hard-pressed to win without retaining the record share of white working-class voters the party garnered this week.

Educated Voters


The combination of these trends explains the two big Republican disappointments on election night: the failure of Sharron Angle and Ken Buck to win Senate seats in Nevada and Colorado. The conservative Tea Party favorites swept the rural and exurban parts of their states, but lost big in the Las Vegas and Denver areas, where highly educated whites and most Latinos live.


Less-Educated Voters

West Virginia is the capital of the white working class. Fifty-eight percent of the state’s voters were whites without a college degree, 19 points higher than the national average. Ninety-five percent are white and 69 percent say they disapprove of Obama’s job performance.

Despite this, the Democratic governor, Joe Manchin, swept to an easy 10-point victory over Republican John Raese, a wealthy businessman who owns mansions in Florida and expressed doubts about the minimum wage.