How the GOP Is Literally Killing Its Voters
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It isn’t hard to understand why Republican Party strategists have been gloating over New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s landslide re-election on November 5: at a time when so much is being written about demographics working against the GOP, they’ll take all the victories they can get (especially in a state as heavily Democratic as New Jersey). But Christie’s victory was an outlier, and Christie—as right-wing as he is—has never been a favorite of either the Tea Party or the Christian Right.
Trends are more revealing than outliers, and one need only attend a Tea Party rally or look at the 2012 election results to see that the GOP base is predominantly white, older and hardly the picture of diversity. But the fact that President Barack Obama, in 2012, won 93% of the African-American vote, 71% of the Latino vote, 73% of the Asian vote, 67% of the non-married female vote and 55% of the overall female vote isn’t the only problem the GOP is facing when it comes to demographics. The GOP’s dirty little secret is that Republican and Tea Party policies are literally killing the GOP’s own base.
Not all of the older white males (and to a lesser degree, older white females) who vote Republican are affluent, and not everyone who is affluent votes Republican (some of the most expensive, ultra-gentrified cities in the United States—including Seattle, San Francisco, Boston and New York City—are overwhelmingly Democratic).
The late journalist Joe Bageant (a self-described “redneck leftist” and author of the 2008 book Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches From America's Class War) had a lot to say about white poverty and the fact that the GOP, with its emphasis on culture war issues, has convinced many older whites to vote against their own economic interests. Bageant often stressed that poverty should not be viewed as strictly an urban, black and Latino problem. He was fond of saying that when you’re poor, white and rural in America, you have no choice but to get tough in a hurry. And since Bageant’s death in 2011, the economic conditions for poor whites have continued to worsen.
The number of Americans who are poor enough to qualify for food stamps has increased by a disturbing 30 million in the last 13 years. In 2000, 17 million Americans were receiving food stamps; in 2013, the number is 47 million. Hoping to stir up racial tensions, far-right AM radio talk show hosts and Fox News wingnuts try to paint food stamp recipients as strictly or mostly people of color. But the facts don’t bear that out. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, roughly half of food stamp recipients are non-Hispanic whites (in Ohio, it’s around 65%). So when Republicans vote to cut food stamps, many of the people they are hurting are white. On September 19 , Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to slash billions of dollars from the U.S. food stamp program during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s description of Obama as the “food stamp president” was obviously designed to inflame racial tensions and paint African Americans as freeloaders, but Gingrich neglected to mention that many of the people he considers freeloaders are actually white. When Republicans and the Tea Party contribute to hunger by attacking food stamps, people of color aren’t the only ones who suffer: Republicans are physically harming their own base. Slashing food stamp benefits won’t harm the Koch brothers or JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, but it will definitely harm poor whites in a place like McDowell County, West Virginia, which is 94% white (according to the U.S. Census Bureau), rural and has a life expectancy of only 63.9 for males and 72.9 for females (according to a report that the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington released in July 2013). If life expectancy is any indication, the economic conditions for white males in McDowell County aren’t much better than the economic conditions in Haiti, where, according to the World Health Organization, males have a life expectancy of 62. In contrast to McDowell County, that study showed a life expectancy of 81.4 for males and 85.0 for females in Marin County, California—which is affluent and heavily Democratic.