The Demise of the White Democratic Voter

Thomas B. Edsall, New York Times, November 12, 2014

It has not escaped the notice of political analysts that 72 percent of whites without college degrees–a rough proxy for what we used to call the white working class–believe that “the U.S. economic system generally favors the wealthy.” Or that on Nov. 4, these same men and women voted for Republican House candidates by a 61-31 margin.

Similarly, the overwhelmingly white electorates of Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota voted decisively in referendums to raise the minimum wage while simultaneously voting for Republicans, whose party has adamantly rejected legislation to raise the minimum wage.

There is an ongoing debate among politicians, political scientists and partisans of both parties over the dismal support of Democratic candidates among whites. Does it result from ideological differences, racial animosity or a perception among many whites that they are excluded from a coalition of minorities, the poor, single women of all races, gays and other previously marginalized constituencies?

Arguably, the poor Democratic showing among whites does not represent naked race prejudice, as Obama’s election and re-election attest. But it can be seen as a reflection of substantial material interests that affect the very voters who carry greater weight in low turnout midterm Congressional elections.

Whites as a whole, who made up 75 percent of this year’s electorate, voted for Republican House candidates by a 24-point margin, 62-38, the exact same margin by which they supported Republican candidates in the 2010 midterms. In 2006, when opposition to President George W. Bush was intense, Republicans won white voters by eight points, 52-44.


Obamacare shifts health care benefits and tax burdens from upper-income Americans to lower-income Americans, and from largely white constituencies to beneficiaries disproportionately made up of racial and ethnic minorities. The program increases levies on the overwhelmingly white affluent by raising taxes on households making more than $250,000.

To achieve its goals, Obamacare reduces by $500 billion, over 10 years, spending on Medicare, according to the Medicare board of trustees, which oversees the finances of the program. Medicare serves a population that is 77 percent white. Even as reductions in Medicare spending fall disproportionately on white voters, the savings are being used to finance Obamacare, which includes a substantial expansion of Medicaid. Medicaid recipients are overwhelmingly poor and, in 2013, were 41 percent white and 59 percent minority.

In addition to expanding Medicaid, the overall goal of Obamacare is to provide health coverage for the uninsured, a population that, in 2010 when the program was enacted, was 47 percent white, and 53 percent black, Hispanic, Asian-American and other minorities.

It’s not hard to see, then, why a majority of white midterm voters withheld support from Democrats and cast their votes for Republicans.


If Republicans are successful in toning down their candidates, it will take from Democrats a weapon that has proved highly successful in state and federal elections: demonizing Republican Party candidates as a collection of knuckle-dragging Neanderthals.

The Democrats’ portrayal of Republicans has served to motivate both Democratic voters and donors, especially suburban white Democrats, by tapping into their anger and fear of a morally intrusive Republican Party.


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