The fact that race is a factor does not necessarily follow that racism is the driving force (more on that later) or that Obama’s race is the principle motivating force. Things are more complicated than that.
For example, Gladney was black while many of the trade unionists he confronted were white. Race is so deeply embedded in US history and culture that to talk of where politics ends and race begins sets up a false dichotomy. Since the end of World War II, Democrats have only once (in 1964) won the presidency with a majority of the white vote. A far higher percentage and number of whites voted for Obama than voted for John Kerry.
On some level, explaining why poorer whites would vote for the Republicans demands a resource sorely lacking in US political culture at present, particularly during election time: empathy.
There are more to “interests” than just the economic. If someone’s core conviction is that abortion is murder or gay marriage is wrong then their decision to vote for a candidate who is against abortion or gay marriage is not an act of delusion, but conviction. Working-class white voters who are against abortion are significantly more likely to vote Democrat than their more affluent counterparts. So the economy still matters.
However, it is not the only consideration. In 2008, Obama won narrowly among people who earn US$200,000 or more. Given his plans to tax high earners more heavily, many of them were voting against their economic interest, as do Warren Buffett, George Soros and all of Obama’s wealthy funders. If poor states voting Republican is a paradox, then 9 out of 10 states with the highest median income voting Democrat is no less so.
Moreover, some people, despite being poor, legitimately believe in the free market and small government, even if it does not benefit them in precisely the same way that wealthy people may favor greater government intervention even if it does not benefit them. This partly describes the position of Mark Weaver, whom I met in Fort Collins, Colorado, a few weeks ago. Weaver had been the chairman of the Loveland Chamber of Commerce and effectively lobbied for the business community of northern Colorado. He was a registered Republican and evangelical Christian who lost his job and found himself visiting a food bank and working at a book store where he makes US$9 an hour just so that he can get healthcare benefits for his family. He changed his registration to independent on polling day.
His political views are eclectic. He is for gun control and a more humane immigration policy and thinks unions are dinosaurs and is against abortion, but says it is preferable to get rid of it by changing peoples’ hearts rather than the law.
He does not like Romney and said he thought the 47 percent remark merely confirmed his belief the Republican candidate was a snob.
“It doesn’t surprise me about Romney because he’s always struck me as a stuffed shirt. He’s arrogant, and it’s hard for me to get past that. It didn’t change my mind about him because I always thought that about him,” he said.
However, when we met — a few hours before the first presidential debate — he was still considering voting Republican because he is concerned about the deficit and thought Romney might do a better job. One could argue about whether his assessment of Romney’s deficit cutting plans are plausible. However, one cannot reasonably insist it was not a considered viewpoint.