Conservatives are pouncing today on a provocative piece by Thomas Edsall which makes this startling claim: “preparations by Democratic operatives for the 2012 election make it clear for the first time that the party will explicitly abandon the white working class.” The piece is a sensation on Twitter, and it’s led to speculation that Obama’s team knows he’s so weak with blue collar whites that he’s given up on them.
Edsall points to a recent Times piece arguing that Obama’s team is well aware of his weakness in the Rust Belt, and is looking to western states — and their educated white populations — to get to 270 electoral votes. Edsall also cites a terrific new report out from the Center for American Progress. It argues that if working class whites desert Dems next year in the numbers they did in 2010, Obama’s only hope is to replicate his performance among college educated whites from 2008.
From these points, Edsall concludes: “All pretense of trying to win a majority of the white working class has been effectively jettisoned in favor of cementing a center-left coalition made up” of minorities and “voters who have gotten ahead on the basis of educational attainment.”
The Obama campaign flatly denies it’s writing off working class whites. Spokesman Ben LaBolt emails:
Some in the media and in academia seem to be having a discussion about a mythic campaign strategy that doesn’t have a bearing on ours. If you want to know where we’re competing, take a look at our organization — we’re competing on an expanded playing field that includes AZ and GA, we’re building the biggest grassroots campaign in history, and not only are we competing across all demographics but we’re working to expand the electorate once again.
My read: Obama’s team knows that he is unlikely to win back blue collar whites in the numbers that he needs, and they are looking at ways to offset that problem. After all, in 2008, Obama only suffered a four point deficit among these voters; two years later, Congressional Dems suffered a 30 point deficit. It will be hard to win those voters back in huge numbers.
It’s also clear that the Obama team sees holding the three key western states — Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico, with growing populations of college educated whites — as a key backup plan if Obama falls short of his 2008 performance in the Rust Belt and midwest. More broadly, demographic trends are producing growing numbers of college educated whites, and declining numbers of white working class voters. In response, Dem strategists are recalibrating their thinking about the centrality of blue collar whites to the traditional Dem coalition. In these respects Edsall is right, and his piece raises a number of issues that are key to the Dems’ future. But I don’t see any evidence that the Obama team is writing off those voters as permanently lost. They are hoping to compete aggressively for those voters and for college educated whites, and are pursuing multiple routes to 270.
At any rate, when you get a second, do check out that great CAP report. on demographics and the 2012 election. I’ll be referring to it a lot going forward.