Thursday, November 8, 2012

My Demographic--And Ours

It has quickly become operative wisdom that white male voters overwhelmingly rejected Obama. Victory came because of a disproportionately strong showing among Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians, and other (are their other?) minorities. Here is today's Times, where operative wisdoms morph into axioms:

This year, Mr. Obama managed to win a second term despite winning only 39 percent of white voters and 44 percent of voters older than 65... [M]en made up only about one-quarter of Mr. Obama’s voters. In the House of Representatives next year, for the first time, white men will make up less than half of the Democratic caucus.

There is a touching side to this wisdom, implying an America that is more diverse and global than technicolor movies conveyed. But there is also a seriously misleading, Ayn Randish implication here, which is that the "47%" Romney warned against are real, except that they are quickly on their way to becoming 51%.

If white men--historically, the pillars of the productive middle class--didn't buy Obama, while minorities (viz., "victims," have-nots, etc.) ate him up, what lessons do we learn about the ideas the candidates ran on? Romney lost, yes, but, implicitly, his ideas about the economy, the commonwealth, the family, and so forth, should be considered to have been vaguely vindicated, truths in a losing cause, associated as they are with society's allegedly most "traditional" (translate: "responsible") group. Paul Ryan's eyes still gleam. If he loses his country then it's everybody's loss.

This is pretty much what Bill O'Reilly is now saying, appealing to the GOP to be more Hispanic-friendly, scoffing at "voters who had something to gain by keeping him in office." (Go to the 5 minute mark in the video.) You can bet this is what a good many smart-alecks are thinking around the hedge funds, business schools, and investment banks who saw in Romney a kindred spirit.

Let's get something straight. Romney didn't win white males. He won poorly-educated, older white males. Nate Cohn's New Republic piece is indispensable for us now. Obama actually won, albeit narrowly, among highly educated white males, and won handily among younger highly educated white males. Oh, and his whites have to be Christian. Jews--who are white but typically highly educated--went for Obama 70-30%, though pro-Bibi Jewish plutocrats, who endow Jewish organizations, sent a strong pro-Romney message.

The point is, the more voters were accustomed to processing complex arguments about how the economy works, how we got into trouble, how history might be made, and how political institutions share power, the more they embraced Obama. The more they were motivated by fears and flocking, the more they went for Romney's witless syllogisms: the president is responsible for everything, things are bad, therefore Obama is to blame; recovery requires business investment, I am a businessman, therefore I should be president. (Incidentally, my daughter Ellie just sent me this: for what its worth, biological research into the fear centers that are typically activated in the brains of "conservatives." Intriguing.)

I'd like to believe that the talking heads would take note. But I am not hopeful.  It is just easier to portray voters, not as heads who, well, talk and decide, but as bundles of appetites, socialized preferences, demographic interests. If you assume voters think then you might have to.