Some trends in the polls answer questions I raised in the SUSA poll post. The questions I had were mostly about the undecideds. Who are they? Well, they tend to be white in numbers, Hispanic in proportion, female, lower income, older, and from the Midwest. The SUSA poll did not ask who they had supported (if anyone) in the primaries, so we don’t know how previous loyalties map onto this. (If any pollsters are reading this blog, that would be a very good data point to track, hint, hint.)They are swing state voters and they are showing signs of being willing to defect to McCain. What we are seeing now is the defection game I discussed back in May, Percentage, Preferences and Defections, Oh My! The campaign that is most effective in wooing defections to their side in the Midwest and in the border state area will win the election.
The emphasis currently is on the poll numbers, but the political question is not that people break one way or the other, for this candidate over that one, but why they are doing so. Unless you know why someone is resolving to vote X instead of Y, you cannot address their concerns and win over their vote. You must apprehend what matters to them. A recent article in the BBC by Joe Bageant on being a redneck gets to the heart of the apprehension divide in Democrats:
As to having our delicate beer-sodden feelings protected from the term redneck; well, I appreciate the effort, though I highly suspect that the best way to hide snobbishness is to pose as protector of any class of folks you cannot bear. Thus we are being protected by the very people who look down on us - educated urban progressives. …
The term redneck indicates a lifestyle and culture that can be found in every state in our union. The essentials of redneck culture were brought to America by what we call the Scots Irish, after first being shipped to the Ulster Plantation, where our, uh, remarkable cultural legacy can still be seen every 12 July in Ireland.
Read the whole article; it is short and more sophisticated than its folksy veneer would have you think. Kind of like the rednecks it describes. This article resonates well with this one, Obama and the Closing of the American Dream, in the online journal n + 1. This article presents an interesting and I think correct view on the apprehensive feelings of America’s blue-collar and pink-collar classes towards the usual Democratic candidate – someone they do not apprehend to be one of them (my emphasis throughout):
This classless universality—the hope that every American citizen, through free labor, could enjoy middle-class respectability, economic freedom, and the intellectual benefits of education—lay at the core of the dreams championed by farmers, small-business owners, and factory workers. In the nineteenth century, such universal rhetoric coexisted with the practical exclusion of blacks and women, who were considered to be beneath citizenship. Crucially, however, there was nothing intrinsic to farming, wage earning, or entrepreneurship that required the permanent separation of these groups from the promise of social respectability. Today, one can and should hope for an American dream that truly includes all Americans, and which recognizes and respects all the different types of labor the country needs. This would fulfill the promise of nineteenth-century aspirations.
Instead we have been left with the professional ideal, which values only certain types of work and thus implicitly disdains the rest. It is an inherently exclusive ideal, structured around a divide between those engaged in high-status work and those confined to task execution. The political theorist Iris Marion Young writes, "Today equal opportunity has come to mean only that no one is barred from entering competition for a relatively few privileged positions." The idea of exclusivity is a necessary structural feature of professionalization. As a model for society, however, it validates an economic and cultural divide between those with meaningful access to social respectability and the vast majority of Americans, who remain consigned to low status and low-income employment.
From 1932 until 1968, the Democratic Party rested on two descriptions of American life—the American dream as embodied by the rural farmer and the industrial worker. It gained sustenance from a respect for these accounts of middle-class achievement, economic independence, and democratic inclusion. Today's party, however, has given up on establishing new forms of solidarity for nonprofessional citizens. All it has to offer is a lose-lose proposition: join the competition for professional status and cultural privilege at a severe disadvantage, or don't join it at all. The party holds on to the social programs of the past, but in ever more truncated form. It presents a politics of consensus while ignoring the fact of basic division.
This profound shift in the fabric of ordinary life, away from conditions that would support blue-collar affluence and towards a highly competitive situation of symbolic analysts and information workers has been happening since the rise of the professional middle class in the early 1900s, but has increased in speed and scope since the 1960s. As I discussed in Easy Come, Easy Go, the GI Bill helped both to hasten that shift and to help certain groups of people escape it. The people who have been mocked by the Obamacans and by the MSM – bitter, dead-enders, clinging to outré emblems of the declining classes, Bunkers and Bubbas – are those who now are undecided about what to do with their votes come November. These are people who have traditionally voted Democrat and are willing to do so again. They are Clinton Democrats, which is not merely people who vote for Bill or Hillary, but people with cultural and economic interests to defend. If their economic needs are not met, then they will vote on culture, which is how the republicans keep winning narrow victories. They are the rednecks of Bageant’s article and the people being told to engage in a fight against tremendous odds, or get out of the way.
Bill Clinton’s simple formulation “people who work hard and play by the rules,” resonates with this constituency because it appeals to their cultural values in the right way, and it captures their main complaint against the socio-economic gotcha they are now facing – we did what we were told to do, and we’re being left behind. If you work with your hands for a living, working hard takes on a different feel than the 9-5 cubicle rat race. It is hard to be on your feet all day, always moving and doing physical things, like digging stuff up, constructing things, assembling things, moving stuff. Pink collar jobs may not require the brute force, but they are still taxing – retail, restaurants, health care. People who work hard want things done by the rules. They see the irony of the rock star singing “Money for nothing and your chicks for free,” from the perspective of an appliance delivery guy.
These voters are apprehensive about someone who doesn’t seem to be on their side. They will come out to vote for someone who defends their interests as they understand them, which may not be the way that the current DNC leadership views their interests. What the polls reflect is their current opinion, subject to change but less so with each passing day, of what is most in their interest, and it is more than economics or even national security. It is about culture, class and respect. It is about appeals that are not overtly antagonistic towards them. When the Democratic campaign is about ditching the former loyalists, those loyalists begin to wonder just what they are loyal to and whether their loyalty will be better rewarded elsewhere.
The misapprehension of Clinton Democrats by the Obamacans would be funny were it not so self-defeating. Bitter knitters? In that one phrase, the current Democratic leadership insults the demographic that is going to decide the election – older women in traditional jobs and roles whose important pastimes include creative handiwork, such as knitting, sewing, crocheting, spinning, weaving, quilting and other practical crafts. As someone who cannot do any of these things to save her life, I am in awe of the women (and men) who do this. This would also encompass the men and women formerly employed in the textile industry where their skilled labor has been rendered obsolete by the disappearance of the mills. What someone (thank you, Rahm) may think of as some fringe or marginal hobby practiced by a few deranged Hillary holdouts actually goes to the heart of the loss of the blue collar middle class and the increasing divide between not so much as the haves and have nots, as those with a chance at affluence and those who are “confined to task execution.” Not just current riches but the possibility of gaining them in the future.
This cognitive disconnect among the best and the brightest is almost as severe as their misapprehension of themselves. Arthur Silber, who writes things that make me squirm and want to object (and that’s a good thing), is an unrelenting critic of progressive self-misapprehension. Read here on the conceits about racism, misogyny and “anti-war” that the Obamacan progs like to attribute to themselves, not comprehending the depths of their mendacity about how they benefit from racial privilege, gender bias, and the kind of cultural and economic divide that guarantees bodies for the war machine without threat of a draft that might pull the denizens of Whole Foods Nation into the conflagration.
These two instances of apprehension – failing to apprehend political reality leading to formerly loyal partisans feeling apprehensive about what the leadership is doing – are unforced errors on the Democratic side. McCain may have capitalized on them with the selection of Palin, but she merely illuminates the already existing split.
Undecided voters defecting to the Republicans is a symptom of the political incompetence of our current party leaders. Once the debacle is over, they should be apprehended and tossed out on their ears.