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June 29, 2011, 10:58 a.m.

Sen. Chuck Schu­mer (D) has “re­ceived the most fin­an­cial sup­port from the com­mu­nic­a­tions and elec­tron­ics sec­tor this elec­tion cycle” by “rak­ing in” nearly $1M.

Want More On This Race? Check out the Hot­line Dash­board for a com­pre­hens­ive run­down of this race, in­clud­ing stor­ies, polls, ads, FEC num­bers, and more!

The com­puters/in­ter­net in­dustry “gave most gen­er­ously to Schu­mer” by “filling his cof­fers” with $240K. Schu­mer “took in” an­oth­er $425K “from firms grouped in the TV/movies/mu­sic cat­egory.” That tops their “list” of cong. re­cip­i­ents “this cycle” (Krig­man, Con­gress Daily, 10/7).

In 1984, Ron­ald Re­agan won the most de­cis­ive pres­id­en­tial land­slide of the past three dec­ades. It’s a meas­ure of the chal­lenge fa­cing Re­pub­lic­ans that to beat Barack Obama, even nar­rowly, Mitt Rom­ney may need to equal Re­agan’s tower­ing per­form­ance in one key re­spect. It’s a meas­ure of the chal­lenge fa­cing Obama that it’s not in­con­ceiv­able Rom­ney will do just that.

Re­agan won 58.8 per­cent of the vote, 49 states, and an un­matched 525 Elect­or­al Col­lege votes. But he did so in a coun­try demo­graph­ic­ally very dif­fer­ent from today’s Amer­ica. Those changes may be the most im­port­ant as­set avail­able to Obama as he struggles against an in­tensi­fy­ing eco­nom­ic un­der­tow. Yet even that might not save the pres­id­ent.

For an up­com­ing Na­tion­al Journ­al re­port il­lu­min­at­ing voter trends over the past eight pres­id­en­tial elec­tions, Emory Uni­versity polit­ic­al sci­ent­ist Alan Ab­ramow­itz con­duc­ted a de­tailed ana­lys­is of exit polls from the 1984 race. That ex­er­cise cap­tures the mag­nitude of the cul­tur­al and demo­graph­ic changes that have re­made the na­tion since then.

When Re­agan routed Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee Wal­ter Mondale in 1984, the white work­ing class dom­in­ated the elect­or­ate. White voters without a four-year col­lege de­gree cast 61 per­cent of all bal­lots that year, and they gave Re­agan 66 per­cent of their votes, the NJ ana­lys­is found. White voters with at least a four-year col­lege de­gree cast an ad­di­tion­al 27 per­cent of the vote, and 62 per­cent of them went for Re­agan. Eighty-one per­cent of minor­it­ies backed Mondale, but they rep­res­en­ted just 12 per­cent of all voters then.

By 2008, minor­it­ies had more than doubled their vote share to 26 per­cent. Col­lege-edu­cated whites had in­creased their share to 35 per­cent. The big losers were whites without a col­lege de­gree, who dropped from 61 per­cent of all voters to 39 per­cent — a de­cline of more than one-third from their level in 1984. That is so­cial change at break­neck speed.

By it­self, this evol­u­tion in Amer­ica’s so­cial struc­ture goes a long way to­ward ex­plain­ing why Demo­crats have won the pop­u­lar vote in four of the five pres­id­en­tial con­tests since 1992 after los­ing (usu­ally em­phat­ic­ally) five of the six races from 1968 to 1988. Mondale in 1984 car­ried only 40.6 per­cent of the pop­u­lar vote. But if col­lege-edu­cated whites, non­col­lege whites, and minor­it­ies all voted as they did in 1984, but were present in the same pro­por­tions they rep­res­en­ted in 2008, Mondale would have taken nearly 48 per­cent of the vote. Con­versely, if those three groups voted as they did in 2008, but were present in their 1984 pro­por­tions, Obama would have lost con­vin­cingly.

Since Re­agan’s day, Demo­crats have be­nefited from not only the grow­ing minor­ity pres­ence but also the shift­ing com­pos­i­tion of the white vote. While non­col­lege white men and wo­men each sub­stan­tially de­clined as a share of voters, and col­lege-edu­cated white men grew only slightly, col­lege-edu­cated white wo­men in­creased their share by more than half. Those wo­men, most of whom are so­cially lib­er­al and re­cept­ive to act­iv­ist gov­ern­ment, con­sist­ently sup­port Demo­crats more than oth­er whites, and their rise frames the Re­aganesque chal­lenge fa­cing Rom­ney.

Most polls this spring show Obama run­ning near the 52 per­cent he won among those up­scale white wo­men in 2008, and also re­main­ing very close to his 80 per­cent show­ing among all minor­it­ies. If Obama can hold that level of sup­port from those two groups, Rom­ney could amass a na­tion­al ma­jor­ity only by win­ning nearly two-thirds of all oth­er whites — the men with col­lege de­grees, and the men and wo­men without them. To put that chal­lenge in per­spect­ive, Re­agan, while win­ning his his­tor­ic land­slide, car­ried a com­bined 66.5 per­cent of those three groups. To de­feat Obama, in oth­er words, Rom­ney may need to equal Re­agan.

That com­par­is­on un­der­scores how im­port­ant it is for Re­pub­lic­ans to even­tu­ally loosen the Demo­crat­ic hold on minor­ity voters (and, to a less­er ex­tent, up­scale white wo­men): It’s un­real­ist­ic to be­lieve that GOP nom­in­ees can routinely match Re­agan’s his­tor­ic per­form­ance with all oth­er whites. But all evid­ence sug­gests that it’s not bey­ond Rom­ney’s reach this year. Even near­ing Re­agan’s level would be enough for Rom­ney if Obama slips slightly with minor­it­ies or well-edu­cated white wo­men and lowers the bar that the GOP must clear with the re­main­ing whites.

In 2010, House Re­pub­lic­ans fell just short of win­ning a com­bined two-thirds of the vote from work­ing-class whites and col­lege-edu­cated white men. Polls this year show Obama at­tract­ing only about one-third of non­col­lege whites, as few as Mondale. Obama’s sup­port among col­lege-edu­cated white men rarely pokes much above 40 per­cent. And even these num­bers could erode fur­ther if the eco­nom­ic stall per­sists. “In terms of the white vote, those num­bers have been in dan­ger­ous ter­rit­ory for over a year,” says vet­er­an Demo­crat­ic poll­ster Peter Hart, who ad­vised Mondale. “You can’t read the num­bers I read and be op­tim­ist­ic.”

Among whites, Obama faces a per­fect storm: eco­nom­ic dis­con­tent, ideo­lo­gic­al ali­en­a­tion, and, in some in­stances, ra­cial un­ease. With more minor­it­ies and up­scale white wo­men vot­ing, Obama has a much stur­di­er base than Mondale did. But a Re­agan-level stam­pede to Rom­ney among all oth­er whites would still over­run it. 

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