We all know Republicans have a woman problem, but let’s focus on the Democrats’ problem with men, specifically white men. Earlier this month, U.S. News and World Report reported that while women outnumber men and vote more than they do, “in a campaign cycle set to see a handful of margin-of-error races that determine U.S. Senate control, it’s an often overlooked and undervalued element of the election.” The story also says that this male voter deficit with Democrats is “more pronounced” than the Republicans problems with single women voters.
The article noted that in races dependent on turnout, men could be the deciding factor. In North Carolina, Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, who’s fighting for her political life, has a healthy 8-point lead amongst women, but her Republican opponent, Thom Tillis, is dominating with male voters by a 13-point margin.
But some Democrats are indifferent. Joel Benenson, Obama’s pollster, seems to think that liberal efforts to stop the bleeding amongst male voters is unnecessary since you don’t need them to win. “They won men in the presidential election and they lost,” he says. “They win white voters in the presidential election and they lost. There’s no absolute rule that you have to win this group or that group.”
That pretty much captures how male voters felt in the 1980s, as they felt the Democratic Party abandoned them. Thus, the Reagan Democrats were born. Yet, the bleeding began during the Johnson administration (via NYT) [emphasis mine]:
No Democratic presidential candidate has won a majority of white men since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all prevailed with support of the so-called rising electorate of women, especially single women, and minorities. But fewer of those voters typically participate in midterm elections, making the votes of white men more potent and the struggle of Democrats for 2014 clear.
“Realistically, winning votes from working-class white men has just been a very tough political challenge for Democrats,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster. With demographic trends favoring Democrats nationally and in many states, strategists say it makes sense to concentrate resources on mobilizing women, young people, Hispanics, blacks and other minority voters.
Democrats generally win the votes of fewer than four in 10 white men. But they win eight of 10 minority voters and a majority of women, who have been a majority of the national electorate since 1984, while white men have shrunk to a third, and are still shrinking.
As the Times noted, Democrats have been able to get some traction with single, gay, nonreligious, and college educated men, whereas the white working class bloc is the hardest to reach, which could spell doom for Democrats this year.
If you look at how the working-class votes over the past decade, you’ll see a trend that’s determined elections consistently in that time period. In a previous post, I mentioned a piece by the Atlantic’s Molly Ball showing how the differences in the the share of the vote Democrats win with Americans making under $50,000 a year has determined where the nation has tilted that year. Given today's political climate, even the AFL-CIO political director is saying that 2014 could be a powerful year for the GOP:
Republicans consistently win voters making $50,000 or more, approximately the U.S. median income. The margin doesn't vary too much: In 2012, Mitt Romney got 53 percent of this group's vote; in 2010, Republican House candidates got 55 percent. And Democrats consistently win voters making less than the median—but the margin varies widely. In fact, whether Democrats win these voters by a 10-point or a 20-point margin tells you who won every national election for the past decade.
In 2004, Democrats won the working-class vote by 11 points; George W. Bush was reelected. In 2006, Democrats won the working-class vote by 22 points and took the House and Senate. In 2008, Democrats won by 22 points again, and President Obama was elected. In 2010, the margin narrowed to 11 points, and Republicans took the House back. In 2012, Obama was reelected—on the strength of another 22-point margin among voters making under $50,000.
In a new Pew survey released Thursday, 45 percent of Republican voters said they were unusually excited to vote this year, compared to 37 percent of Democratic supporters. Gridlock in Washington prevents Congress from doing anything to help those struggling economically, while giving Republicans more to blame Obama and Democrats for. Similarly, chaos around the world obscures Democrats' economic message while dragging down the president's image.
The Pew report didn't include a breakdown based on the $50,000 threshold, so I asked Pew to crunch the numbers for me. The result: 51 percent of voters making less than $50,000 plan to vote for Democrats, while 40 percent plan to vote Republican. (The rest are undecided, and the GOP wins the more-than-$50,000 vote 49-44.) That's exactly the same 11-point margin that has meant Democratic doom in every election since 2004.
There are some silver linings. As Democratic pollster John Anzalone said, “In some ways, men dig in. You see it in the numbers where generically they’re just much more Republican and they dig in.” Women are more open to ideas and exchanges between members from both parties; that means we can be competitive with them if we message our brand correctly. We don’t have to win women, although they should be our mindset, but settling for being competitive is fine with me, as it’ll yield electoral dividends.
Case in point, John Kerry beat George W. Bush amongst women in 2004, but only by 3-points (51/48). Kerry and Bush virtually split down the middle with women who have children (49/50), but 43 dominated, as usual, with married women (55/44) over Kerry. The exit poll lists Kerry and Bush almost virtually tied with “other” women (50/49), I don’t know what other means, but the overall split is something Republicans need to replicate in 2016.
Bush also won a solid 44 percent of the Hispanic vote, but that’s a post for another time.
Democrats have a huge advantage with women voters, who potentially aren’t as reliably Democratic if someone doesn’t come up with something better. Women can become a shiftable voting bloc–we saw this with Bush in 2004–but Republicans need to market themselves without tripping over their shoelaces, which they often do.
With men, they’re not budging towards the Democrats and Republicans have a lock on their votes. Democrats don't seem to have a strategy for stopping the bleeding other than minimum wage hike proposals which polls well with everyone. Even left-leaning think tanks, like John Podesta's Center for American Progress, thinks that the white male deficit shouldn't be ignored even if their share of the vote is declining:
“You can’t just give Republicans a clear field to play for the votes of white working-class men without putting up some sort of a fight because that just allows them to run the table with these voters, thereby potentially offsetting your burgeoning advantage among minorities, single women, millennials,” said Ruy Teixeira, an analyst at the left-leaning Center for American Progress.
“I just think Democrats are having a hard time figuring out how to effectively pursue it,” he added.
Demography isn’t destiny. Both sides have talked about permanent majorities in government and got rude awakenings in 2006 and 2010 respectively. Demography isn’t destiny. So, fear not my conservative friends, there are many ways to maneuver through an electorate to win elections.