Whether or not the tea baggers’ hatred of Obama seems, on the surface, to be motivated by race, it’s remarkable how much political attitudes break down along racial lines. Ron Brownstein:
Just 43 percent of whites polled approve of his job performance, compared with 74 percent of nonwhites (Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians, and others). But that gap, though formidable, isn’t much different from the one in Obama’s support during the 2008 election, when he had the backing of only 43 percent of whites but 80 percent of nonwhites.
More telling are the contrasts across the color line on deeper measures. Both whites and nonwhites worry that young people won’t match earlier generations’ living standards, the poll found. But whites are much more pessimistic about their own prospects. Two-thirds of whites believe that living standards for “people like me” won’t grow as fast as they did for previous generations. Only about one-fourth of African-Americans and two-fifths of Hispanics agree.
Whites are not only more anxious, but also more alienated. Big majorities of whites say the past year’s turmoil has diminished their confidence in government, corporations, and the financial industry. Nonwhites are also sour on the private sector but are much less disillusioned with government. Asked which institution they trust most to make economic decisions in their interest, a plurality of whites older than 30 pick “none” — a grim statement. By contrast, a majority of blacks and a plurality of Hispanics choose elected officials in Washington.
Brownstein goes on to claim that a racial divide like this is troubling, but I also wonder how accurate it is to look at race — as opposed to age and region — as the dominant factor here. The south voted very differently than the rest of the country in 2008 — Obama got between 54 and 59 percent of the vote in the other three regions and only 45 percent in the south. And this despite the fact that the south certainly has a lower percentage of white voters than the the north or midwest (I don’t have the stats at hand so I’m not sure what the comparison is with the west). As for age, Obama did 21 points better among those under 30 than he did among those over 65. That is by far the largest gap that appears in the Roper Center’s online archives. Believe it or not, the largest gap I found before 2008 was 10 points.
It seems to me that we have now is a largely southern, largely older, and entirely white block of voters who are completely politically out of step with the rest of the United States and, indeed, with the rest of the western world. I wonder how much longer the Broders of the world can continue to describe these people as the real Americans whose attitudes define our nation’s values.
Update. Aimai points out in the comments that, aside from the southerness, this is exactly the same demographic that populates the punditocracy.
Also, yes, I realize that age, region, and racial attitudes are all closely linked.