Posted on April 18, 2012

Return of the ‘White Man’s Party’?

Charles Lane, Washington Post, April 16, 2012

In 1868, Horatio Seymour ran for president as the nominee of the Democratic Party, or the “white man’s party,” as it was called. The Democratic heartland in those days was the “reconstructed” South. White men there loathed the Republican Party and its standard-bearer, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant — who relied on the votes of newly enfranchised blacks. Women, of course, could not vote.

Today, such overt racial appeals are as passe as the “solid” Democratic South. But racial polarization, alas, is not. As election analyst Sean Trende argues in a provocative new book, “The Lost Majority,” one plausible scenario for the American future is the entrenchment of “racialized” parties — a prospect that should concern anyone familiar with the American past.

We’re already well on the way. According to Trende, the Democratic share of the white vote for president has lagged its share of the total vote by a steadily increasing margin since 1980; the white electorate “leaned” against the Democrats by 10 points in 2008, even though Barack Obama did better with whites than John Kerry had four years earlier. A similar pattern holds for the congressional vote.

{snip} More than three-fourths of African American voters identify with Democrats; Hispanics favor Democrats 47 percent to 24 percent, according to a 2011 Gallup poll. (The remainder in both groups call themselves independents.) By contrast, the Republican Party had an 11-point edge among whites in the Gallup survey.

Meanwhile, a July survey by the Pew Research Center showed an even more marked GOP advantage — 21 points — among white men. According to Pew, barely a third of white men consider themselves Democrats.

If the GOP is becoming the new “white man’s party,” the Democrats are reliant on women and people of color.


An optimistic view is that party racialization is approaching the point of diminishing returns — and that the losing party in 2012 will conclude that it must broaden its base, or die.