The Trouble with Courting the White Male Vote

Opening blog posts and other informal writing can sometimes be a challenge.  Like this post, for instance: Do I really need to begin with “The Republican victory strategy revolved around the votes of white men,” as if that was new information?  The white dude vote has been the sum total of the Republican strategy for a good while now, though this election cycle was unusually extreme in that respect.  What is new information, at least to Republicans, apparently, is just how ineffective this strategy is.

The problem here is not that a party shouldn’t try to get white men to vote for them.  White men are a big demographic (although slightly outweighed this year by white women); presumably a candidate needs to capture some amount of it to secure a win.  The problem is how.

Since the white male voter has been entrenched in our political consciousness as the “default” voter, there aren’t any issues that are coded as white or male in the same way that, say, immigration is primarily a Hispanic issue or reproductive rights are primarily a women’s issue*.  If an issue were to disproportionately affect men or white people, it would be treated as an American issue that affects everyone.  The mortgage crisis, for instance: 75% of white people own their homes, as opposed to 60% of Asians and less than 50% of African-Americans and Hispanics, and spiraling rent prices don’t grab media attention as a national crisis.  And, for the most part, the populace goes along with this.

This mentality ought to be a godsend for a campaign looking to court the white male demographic because you can focus on the issues that most directly affect them while still appearing and presenting yourself favorably to everyone.  Yet this is insufficient for Republicans; they are under the impression that white male voters will only turn out for them if they help white men and nobody else.

Consequently, to appeal specifically to white male voters, Republicans have to (or think they have to) actively not appeal to other demographics.  Want to show that you support men?  Oppose women’s issues!  Courting the straight vote?  Snub the gay vote!**  Casting yourself as the candidate for people born in the US?  Make life miserable for those who weren’t!  And so on.

This choice is puzzling in the first place because it doesn’t actually help the white male voter base.  How does denying birth control to women, for instance, help men?  It only works if you can convince people that social policy is a zero-sum game where helping one person necessarily hurts everyone else and vice-versa.  There’s a whole conservative cottage industry that revolves around trying to convince people of this (NOM, for one).

But the really odd thing about this strategy is that was so obviously going to backfire.  How could it not?  Every time Republicans try to court one demographic by marginalizing another, they’re outright telling the other demographic not to vote for them.  Republicans are a party for men; women have no reason to support them.  Republicans are a party for white people; minorities shouldn’t vote for them.  And every time Republicans try to strengthen their core by undermining someone else, they add a new demographic to the list of people who shouldn’t vote for them.  Students.  Retirees.  The poor.  The list goes on.

Here we see the stark contrast to the typical Democratic strategy of appealing to minority demographics.  Instead of shutting people out of their party, they generally invite people in.  So Democrats define themselves as a party for minorities, for women, for GLBT people.  Each such definition doesn’t contain any implication that other people shouldn’t support the party, only that there are particularly good reasons to if you belong to one of those groups.  (Naturally, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Democrats are always good for those groups, only that they present themselves that way.)

Republicans have just learned a painful lesson: If you’re going to define your base by exclusion, you’d better be very, very sure that you don’t exclude more than 49% of the country.


Women for Mitt found on Manboobz.

*Say affirmative action and I will smack you.

**The most egregious case came last December, when a gay Republican asked Newt Gingrich why gay voters should support him and Gingrich told him to vote for Obama.


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