Monday, September 17, 2007

Should Dems Say Bye-Bye To Bubba? has a controversial article up today about electoral demographics. Looking at the 2008 primary, author Thomas Schaller asks: has the Democratic Party finally given up on the white, male, working-class vote?
Start looking on milk cartons for Bubba because he has vanished, and not a moment too soon: The Democratic obsession with the down-home, blue-collar, white male voter, that heartbreaker who crossed the aisle to the Republicans many decades ago, may finally be coming to a merciful end.

The simplest explanation for Bubba's absence to date is that none of the 2008 Democratic presidential contenders provides an obvious home for his vote. [ ....] But the candidacy that most testifies to Bubba's declining stock is that of former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

At first blush, Edwards, the Southern populist nonpareil, seems ideally situated to corner the market on working-class, white male voters. But aside from his homegrown accent, Edwards displays none of the affectations or semiotics that might once have signaled his intent to woo them. There are no Lamar Alexander-style flannel shirts; there is no sponsorship, à la Florida Sen. Bob Graham four years ago, of a NASCAR racing team. Instead, Edwards -- whose father worked in a textile mill -- hammers the issue of economic justice largely, if not completely, without overt cultural appeals. If he were a character from Southern literature, the former trial lawyer would be Atticus Finch of "To Kill a Mockingbird," not Henry Drummond of "Inherit the Wind." [...]

Schaller then points out that “Super-Bubba” Bill Clinton didn’t depend on white male voters either; in 1992, 22% those votes went to Ross Perot. In 1996, only 11% of white male voters supported Perot, but “Clinton's support improved by a meager 1 percent.”

The article generated a good deal of criticism in the comments, saying it was racist and relied on stereotypes not demographics. Others found it right-on; one commentor called it a “remarkably prescient piece.”

Either way, it struck a nerve, especially Schaller’s conclusion: to win, Dems need to forget about wooing Bubba.

So should Democrats really be all that worried about Bubba? After snubbing him during primary season, should they revert to form during the general election, and begin their familiar, unrequited quest for his affections? Republican pollster Whit Ayres has a clear preference. "I would dearly love for the Democrats to spend millions of dollars trying to persuade NASCAR fans to vote for the Democrats," Ayres chirped last summer. "They tend to be disproportionately southern, disproportionately white and disproportionately male, which pretty well defines the core of the Republican Party." In other words, it's a waste of time and resources for the Democrats to pursue them -- a classic sucker's bet.

It’s easy to see why Schaller’s article was viewed as inflammatory; no one likes to be pigeonholed because of the way they vote.

I’m seeing a more regional bias reflected in Schaller’s words. Schaller notes that white, male union workers still overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party--although he doesn’t mention that this is itself a declining demographic. But when Schaller refers to the “Bubba” vote it’s obvious he’s referring to the Southern vote. Maybe what Schaller is really saying is, Democrats have lost the white Southern vote, but should they care? I'd clarify this to say, have Democrats lost the rural white Southern vote, and should they care?

This is a hotly debated topic, ever since Howard Dean claimed he wanted Democrats to appeal to "guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks.” I’ve never understood why he got so much flak for that comment; it’s not like there aren’t guys with Confederate flags on their pickup trucks all over the place, especially outside big cities like Nashville.

I just spent a weekend at a tiny rural community on the Tennessee-Kentucky border, miles from the nearest Interstate. I saw more Confederate flags in 24 hours than in the whole past year. I saw a pick-up truck with a flag-pole-sized Confederate flag attached to the back, waving proudly as the truck whizzed down the highway. I saw one African American person all weekend, and he was sweeping the sidewalks. When asking a local about the town’s Mexican restaurant, my traveling companions said the response was: "I don't like no Mexicans and I don't like their damn food, neither." This fellow was the stereotypical Bubba; this town was the stereotypical rural Southern town.

Does anyone think Democrats can get this vote? Should they care if they can’t?