Vous allez dans certaines petites villes de Pennsylvanie où, comme dans beaucoup de petites villes du Middle West, les emplois ont disparu depuis maintenant 25 ans et n’ont été remplacés par rien d’autre (…) Et il n’est pas surprenant qu’ils deviennent pleins d’amertume, qu’ils s’accrochent aux armes à feu ou à la religion … Barack Obama
Nous qui vivons dans les régions côtières des villes bleues, nous lisons plus de livres et nous allons plus souvent au théâtre que ceux qui vivent au fin fond du pays. Nous sommes à la fois plus sophistiqués et plus cosmopolites – parlez-nous de nos voyages scolaires en Chine et en Provence ou, par exemple, de notre intérêt pour le bouddhisme. Mais par pitié, ne nous demandez pas à quoi ressemble la vie dans l’Amérique rouge. Nous n’en savons rien. […] Nous ne savons pas tirer au fusil ni même en nettoyer un, ni reconnaître le grade d’un officier rien qu’à son insigne. Quant à savoir à quoi ressemble une graine de soja poussée dans un champ… David Brooks
Il est vrai que les électeurs américains attachent plus de poids aux questions de société qu’il y a 20 ans. Il est également vrai que la religion est devenue un facteur prédictif plus fort du comportement électoral. Mais ces deux évolutions se concentrent principalement parmi les plus favorisés et diplômés, pas parmi les ouvriers. (…) M. Obama devrait faire aussi bien ou mieux parmi ces électeurs s’il est le candidat démocrate en novembre. Si ce n’est pas le cas, ce ne sera pas parce qu’il a offensé les sensibilités de l’Amérique profonde. Ce sera parce qu’il a fait sien un stéréotype trompeur de ce qu’ils sont vraiment et de ce qui les intéresse réellement. Larry M. Bartels (Princeton)
Je pense toujours qu’Obama était le seul candidat démocrate sérieux qui pouvait perdre en une année comme celle-ci, et McCain le seul républicain qui pouvait gagner. Victor Davis Hanson
Et si les "pauvres" ou les "ploucs" tenaient vraiment à leur religion et leurs armes à feu et continuaient à refuser de voter pour les élites “suréduquées, libérales, arrogantes, jouisseuses et dépravées” que sont devenus ses traditionnels mandants de gauche?
Jeune et ex-reine de beauté, sportive et communicatrice hors pair, femme active et mère de cinq enfants, fière de ses racines rurales et de sa religion, réformatrice qui s’est attaquée à la corruption des multinationales et de son propre parti …
Peut-on imaginer, face à la condescendance et aux geignardises d’une gauche caviar qui a torpillé sa candidate la plus crédible, meilleure vitrine pour une droite décomplexée et près des gens (la fameuse Amérique profonde qui a voté Bush toutes ces années) que cette sorte d’Erin Brockovich de droite que John McCain vient de se choisir comme colistière?
Et surtout, comme le rappelle William Kristol du Weekly Standard, plus terrible cauchemar, au lendemain du triomphe supposé du messie Obama, pour les deux derniers mois de campagne de Démocrates réduits à prier pour un nouveau Katrina?
Let Palin Be Palin
Why the left is scared to death of McCain’s running mate.
A spectre is haunting the liberal elites of New York and Washington–the spectre of a young, attractive, unapologetic conservatism, rising out of the American countryside, free of the taint (fair or unfair) of the Bush administration and the recent Republican Congress, able to invigorate a McCain administration and to govern beyond it.
That spectre has a name–Sarah Palin, the 44-year-old governor of Alaska chosen by John McCain on Friday to be his running mate. There she is: a working woman who’s a proud wife and mother; a traditionalist in important matters who’s broken through all kinds of barriers; a reformer who’s a Republican; a challenger of a corrupt good-old-boy establishment who’s a conservative; a successful woman whose life is unapologetically grounded in religious belief; a lady who’s a leader.
So what we will see in the next days and weeks–what we have already seen in the hours after her nomination–is an effort by all the powers of the old liberalism, both in the Democratic party and the mainstream media, to exorcise this spectre. They will ridicule her and patronize her. They will distort her words and caricature her biography. They will appeal, sometimes explicitly, to anti-small town and anti-religious prejudice. All of this will be in the cause of trying to prevent the American people from arriving at their own judgment of Sarah Palin.
That’s why Palin’s spectacular performance in her introduction in Dayton was so important. Her remarks were cogent and compelling. Her presentation of herself was shrewd and savvy. I heard from many who watched Palin–many of them not predisposed to support her–about how moved they were by her remarks, her composure, and her story. She will have a chance to shine again Wednesday night at the Republican convention.
But before and after that, she’ll be swimming in political waters infested with sharks. Her nickname when she was the starting point guard on an Alaska high school championship basketball team was "Sarah Barracuda." I suspect she’ll take care of herself better than many expect.
But the McCain campaign can help. The choice of Palin was McCain’s own. Many of his staff expected, and favored, other more conventional candidates. The campaign may be tempted to overreact when one rash sentence or foolish comment by Palin from 10 or 15 years ago is dragged up by Democratic opposition research and magnified by a credulous and complicit media.
The McCain campaign will have to keep its cool. It will have to provide facts and context, and to hit back where appropriate. But it cannot become obsessed with playing defense. It should allow Palin to deal with the charges directly and resist the temptation to try to shield her from the media. Palin is potentially a huge asset to McCain. He took the gamble–wisely, we think–of putting her on the ticket. McCain’s choice of Palin was McCain being McCain. Now his campaign will have to let Palin be Palin.
There will be rocky moments. But they will fade if the McCain campaign lets Palin’s journey take its natural course over the next two months. Millions of Americans–mostly but not only women, mostly but not only Republicans and conservatives–seemed to get a sense of energy and enjoyment and pride, not just from her nomination, but especially from her smashing opening performance. Palin will be a compelling and mold-breaking example for lots of Americans who are told every day that to be even a bit conservative or Christian or old-fashioned is bad form. In this respect, Palin can become an inspirational figure and powerful symbol. The left senses this, which is why they want to discredit her quickly.
A key moment for Palin will be the vice presidential debate, to be held at Washington University in St. Louis on October 2. One liberal commentator–a former U.S. ambassador and not normally an unabashed vulgarian–licked his chops Friday afternoon: To steal an old adage of former Secretary of state James Baker : … putting Sarah Palin into a debate with Joe Biden is going to be like throwing Howdy Doody into a knife fight!"
Charming. And if Palin holds her own against Biden, as she is fully capable of doing? McCain will then have succeeded in combining with his own huge advantage in experience and judgment, a politician of great promise in his vice presidential slot who will make Joe Biden look like a tiresome relic. McCain’s willingness to take a chance on Palin could turn what looked, after Obama’s impressive speech Thursday night in Denver, like a long two months for Republicans and conservatives, into a campaign of excitement and–dare we say it?–hope, which will culminate on November 4 in victory.
Who’s Bitter Now?
Larry M. Bartels
The New York Times
April 17, 2008
DURING Wednesday night’s Democratic presidential debate in Philadelphia, Barack Obama once more tried to explain what he meant when he suggested earlier this month that small-town people of modest means “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them” out of frustration with their place in a changing American economy. Mr. Obama acknowledged that his wording offended some voters, but he also reiterated his impression that “wedge issues take prominence” when voters are frustrated by “difficult times.”
Last week in Terre Haute, Ind., Mr. Obama explained that the people he had in mind “don’t vote on economic issues, because they don’t expect anybody’s going to help them.” He added: “So people end up, you know, voting on issues like guns, and are they going to have the right to bear arms. They vote on issues like gay marriage. And they take refuge in their faith and their community and their families and things they can count on. But they don’t believe they can count on Washington.”
This is a remarkably detailed and vivid account of the political sociology of the American electorate. What is even more remarkable is that it is wrong on virtually every count.
Small-town people of modest means and limited education are not fixated on cultural issues. Rather, it is affluent, college-educated people living in cities and suburbs who are most exercised by guns and religion. In contemporary American politics, social issues are the opiate of the elites.
For the sake of concreteness, let’s define the people Mr. Obama had in mind as people whose family incomes are less than $60,000 (an amount that divides the electorate roughly in half), who do not have college degrees and who live in small towns or rural areas. For the sake of convenience, let’s call these people the small-town working class, though that term is inevitably imprecise. In 2004, they were about 18 percent of the population and about 16 percent of voters.
For purposes of comparison, consider the people who are their demographic opposites: people whose family incomes are $60,000 or more, who are college graduates and who live in cities or suburbs. These (again, conveniently labeled) cosmopolitan voters were about 11 percent of the population in 2004 and about 13 percent of voters. While admittedly crude, these definitions provide a systematic basis for assessing the accuracy of Mr. Obama’s view of contemporary class politics.
Small-town, working-class people are more likely than their cosmopolitan counterparts, not less, to say they trust the government to do what’s right. In the 2004 National Election Study conducted by the University of Michigan, 54 percent of these people said that the government in Washington can be trusted to do what is right most of the time or just about always. Only 38 percent of cosmopolitan people expressed a similar level of trust in the federal government.
Do small-town, working-class voters cast ballots on the basis of social issues? Yes, but less than other voters do. Among these voters, those who are anti-abortion were only 6 percentage points more likely than those who favor abortion rights to vote for President Bush in 2004. The corresponding difference for the rest of the electorate was 27 points, and for cosmopolitan voters it was a remarkable 58 points. Similarly, the votes cast by the cosmopolitan crowd in 2004 were much more likely to reflect voters’ positions on gun control and gay marriage.
Small-town, working-class voters were also less likely to connect religion and politics. Support for President Bush was only 5 percentage points higher among the 39 percent of small-town voters who said they attended religious services every week or almost every week than among those who seldom or never attended religious services. The corresponding difference among cosmopolitan voters (34 percent of whom said they attended religious services regularly) was 29 percentage points.
It is true that American voters attach significantly more weight to social issues than they did 20 years ago. It is also true that church attendance has become a stronger predictor of voting behavior. But both of those changes are concentrated primarily among people who are affluent and well educated, not among the working class.
Mr. Obama’s comments are supposed to be significant because of the popular perception that rural, working-class voters have abandoned the Democratic Party in recent decades and that the only way for Democrats to win them back is to cater to their cultural concerns. The reality is that John Kerry received a slender plurality of their votes in 2004, while John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey, in the close elections of 1960 and 1968, lost them narrowly.
Mr. Obama should do as well or better among these voters if he is the Democratic candidate in November. If he doesn’t, it won’t be because he has offended the tender sensitivities of small-town Americans. It will be because he has embraced a misleading stereotype of who they are and what they care about.
Larry M. Bartels, the director of the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics at Princeton, is the author of “Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age.
Katrina vanden Heuvel
I’m a Tom Frank fan. I think he’s a wonderful and passionate writer. But, now a respected political scientist is arguing that the "Great Backlash" Frank chronicled in his last book, in which "conservatives won the heart of America" and created a "dominant political coalition" by convincing Kansans and blue-collar, working-class people to vote against their own economic interests in order to defend traditional cultural values against bicoastal elites "isn’t actually happening–at least, not in anything like the way Frank portrays." (Thanks to Doug Henwood–editor of the invaluable Left Business Observer and longtime Nation contributing editor–for turning me on to this new study.)
In a fascinating paper called "What’s the Matter With What’s the Matter with Kansas?", Princeton professor Larry Bartels uses data from National Election Study (NES) surveys to test Frank’s thesis. He examines class-related patterns of issue preferences, partisanship, and voting over the past half-century. Bartels concludes that the white working class hasn’t moved right and that "moral values" are not pushing them to vote Republican.
Moreover, for the most part, voters’ economic and cultural attitudes are either both liberal or both conservative rather than the bifurcated split Frank sees. Bartels also disproves the argument that there’s been a long-term decline in turnout.
Here’s a summary of the report’s findings if you don’t have time to read the full 43 page paper, first presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association this September. You can also click here to listen to Henwood’s interview with Bartels.
* Has the white working class abandoned the Democratic Party? No. White voters in the bottom third of the income distribution have actually become more reliably Democratic in presidential elections over the past half-century, while middle and upper-income white voters have trended Republican. Low-income whites have become less Democratic in their partisan identifications, but at a slower rate than more affluent whites–and that trend is entirely confined to the South, where Democratic identification was artificially inflated by the one-party system of the Jim Crow era–itself a holdover from the legacy of the Civil War and Reconstruction.
* Has the white working class become more conservative? No. The typical views of low-income whites have remained virtually unchanged over the past 30 years. (A pro-choice shift on abortion in the 1970s and ’80s has been partially reversed since the early 1990s.) Their positions relative to more affluent white voters–generally less liberal on social issues and less conservative on economic issues–have also remained virtually unchanged.
* Do working class "moral values" trump economics in determining voting patterns? No. Social issues (including abortion) are less strongly related to party identification and presidential votes than economic issues, and that is even more true for whites in the bottom third of the income distribution than for more affluent whites. Moreover, while social issue preferences have become more strongly related to presidential votes among middle- and high-income whites, there is no evidence of a corresponding trend among low-income whites.
* Are religious voters distracted from economic issues? No. For church-goers as for non-church-goers, partisanship and voting behavior are primarily shaped by economic issues, not cultural issues.
Click here to read the full study and let’s hope that Democratic Party strategists are doing the same.