Son of the Curse of Obama and the White Working Class

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 29 2011 11:10 AM

Son of the Curse of Obama and the White Working Class

In April 2009, Byron York made a good point that I rather foolishly made light of.

[Obama's] sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are. Asked whether their opinion of the president is favorable or unfavorable, 49 percent of whites in the [New York] Times poll say they have a favorable opinion of Obama. Among blacks the number is 80 percent. Twenty-one percent of whites say their view of the president is unfavorable, while the number of blacks with unfavorable opinions of Obama is too small to measure.
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York was right: Obama's topline poll number was better than the generic Democrat's poll number because black voters were incredibly faithful to him. That seems relevant to the current inter-op-ed-page discussion over Obama and white voters, because the black supporters who love Obama are going to be counted on to save his skin in the Midwest and "new" South. Obama is still competitive in Virginia, for example, because black voters in the Tidewater region and Richmond area are still planning to turn out for him.

But in the report that kicked all of this off, Texeira and Halpin drop an aside that sort of makes York's point for him. "The economic situation is relatively good in Virginia," they write, "which should help Obama. Virginia’s unemployment rate stands at 6.5 percent, though it is a bit higher in the Virginia Beach (7.3 percent) and Richmond (7.4 percent) metro areas." In other words, unemployment is higher in the more black parts of Virginia, but if Obama wins the state, it'll be because those parts of the state turned out at nuclear-strength for him.

That's not a surprise. Black unemployment is roughly twice as high as white unemployment. This is one of the reasons why conservative editorialists can start columns with an assumption: That Obama's coalition of minorities and educated whites isn't as legitimate as a coalition of "working class whites." They're responsive to economic conditions, whereas the snooty class and black voters are going to vote for Obama no matter what he does.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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