Corporate Media Stokes Racial Angst in Election Coverage
Among working white voters who don't have a college degree, President Barack Obama is finding his re-election campaign engaged in the same struggle for votes as the Democratic presidential candidates who preceded him -- but you wouldn't know that from a Politico front-page headline, "Obama Struggling With White Voters," trumpeting a new Washington Post/ABC News poll on the match-up between Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, and former CEO of Bain Capital. (The Washington Post, to its credit, does a better job describing the poll results in its front-page headline, "Obama fares worse among struggling whites.")
The real story is that working-class white voters have trended toward the GOP over the course of the last decade, as the Republican Party has successfully exploited the fear of a changing social structure and economy among a vulnerable population. But you have to get to the seventh paragraph of the Washington Post's story on its poll before you see a glimmer of that history:
In 2008, Obama lost whites without college degrees by a big margin, 58 percent to 40 percent, according to the national exit poll. That performance among such voters was similar to John F. Kerry’s in 2004 and Al Gore’s in 2000.
Last time I looked, Kerry and Gore were white guys, so this divergence is not a simple story of white voter resistance to an African American president, although you might not know that from the framing of the headlines.
I don't mean to suggest that the sentiment of white voters who don't have college degrees is not a issue for the Obama campaign, nor do I mean to suggest that race will not be an issue in the presidential election. (It will, as the race-tinged GOP primary comes back to haunt us during the general election -- but that's not what the results of this poll are about.) Obama needs every vote he can muster, and the state of the economy, combined with the traditional distrust of Democrats among this cohort, could ultimately amount to a greater lack of faith in Obama in this election than in the last. Among white voters who know someone who was laid off (a category more heavily represented by those without college degrees), Obama fares poorly compared to Romney when voters are asked: "Who would do more to advance the economic interests of you and your family?" Obama was named by only 32 percent in that category, while Romney was the answer for 56 percent.
But get this: Among white voters who describe themselves as working class, Obama and Romney break nearly even on that question, with Obama named by 42 percent, and Romney given the nod by 44 percent as the candidate who best represents their economic interests. In fact, voters who described themselves as "middle class" or "upper middle class/better off" were less likely to see Obama as the candidate who would most advance their family's economic interests -- with only 29 percent of the upper middle class category saying Obama would. Looking at that subset, you can see why the Obama campaign's offensive against Romney's legacy as the head of the leveraged buyout firm, Bain Capital, makes perfect sense from a strategic point of view.
Of course, that didn't stop Politico from categorizing the Obama campaign's Bain offensive as evidence of a stumble. Quoting members of what digby would call the Village (the inside-the-beltway crowd captive to so-called conventional wisdom), the story features grousing from an unnamed "veteran of the 2008 campaign" about the narrative the Obama camp is advancing about Romney's job-destroying legacy at Bain.
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney's blatantly cosmetic outreach to African American voters -- likely designed to assuage the fears of white moderates that the GOP has gone full-on racist -- is also front-page news in the Post; the paper's Web site illustrates the story with an adorable photo of Romney visiting a charter school in west Philadelphia, surrounded by African American children wearing school uniforms. Philadelphia's top officials, including Democratic Mayor Michael Nutter, were on hand to protest Romney's visit. (More about that here.)
Toward the end of the story, Romney communications adviser Tara Wall trotted out the trope that Obama's support for same-sex marriage may alienate religious black voters. At Pam's House Blend, proprietor Pam Spaulding unpacks that dubious claim as it was advanced by media outlets regarding the passage, earlier this month, of North Carolina constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Here she takes on Politico, which attributed the passage of North Carolina's Amendment One, as the constitutional ban was called, to African American voters:
"Reports from North Carolina" = NO HARD DATA. Remember -- there were no exit polls, so how could Joseph Williams, the author of the piece, back up that statement as factual information about the black vote in NC on May 8? He couldn't...
Welcome to the post-racial society.