Americans have always had a particularly difficult time admitting they have a race problem despite the fact that race issues have been called “the American dilemma.” Last week, an essay I wrote on the role of racism in the 2012 election drew many comments proclaiming that racism couldn’t possible have played as central a role for white voters as I argued. While there was never a contention that racism was the entirety of the explanation for why nearly 60% of white voters selected the clearly inferior Romney over Obama, I did argue that it played a very significant role. This week, I will elaborate more fully on exactly why.
Some of the arguments against racism continuing to be a major American issue were: 1) the economy was the reason white voters didn’t support Obama; 2) white Democrats have similarly performed poorly with white voters; and 3) If minorities can disproportionately voting for Obama, why can’t whites disproportionately vote for Romney without race being an issue? These arguments made me realize that I needed to present more of the academic foundation for the role of race in American politics. Therefore, I will respond to each of the arguments in turn.
First, if the economy were truly driving the white vote, one would expect to see Obama achieve much higher percentages of white voters in 2008 when Republicans had just created the disastrous Great Recession with their ill-conceived policies. In fact, this was not the case. Obama only did marginally better with this population at the time. In fact, McCain garnered 57% of white men and 53% of white women. There was an uptick for Romney to 62% of white men and 56% of white women. One might attribute the 3-5% loss in the white vote to economic dissatisfaction. However, unless you argue that white voters are ignorant, as some contended, in both the 2008 and 2012 elections, a rational voter would have recognized that either McCain or Romney proposed policies that specifically caused the most horrific downturn in the American economy since the Great Depression. In fact, the last time Republican policies had created such circumstances, the country elected a Democratfour times while embracing progressive policies. There is room for a critique of Obama from the Left, in much the same way Roosevelt was too conservative in his first term, but that would hardly be a reason to turn around and vote more conservatively.
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