Politico: Only White Voters Give a President a “Mandate”

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/barelypodcasting/4309406889/sizes/m/in/photostream/" target="_blank">Flickr/Barely</a>

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Political reporters love the concept of political “mandates” even though political scientists are skeptical that mandates even exist. On Sunday, Politico‘s Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen penned the latest entry in this genre, arguing that Barack Obama, if he wins, won’t have a mandate because he won’t have won a majority of white voters:

If President Barack Obama wins, he will be the popular choice of Hispanics, African-Americans, single women and highly educated urban whites. That’s what the polling has consistently shown in the final days of the campaign. It looks more likely than not that he will lose independents, and it’s possible he will get a lower percentage of white voters than George W. Bush got of Hispanic voters in 2000.

A broad mandate this is not.

This pseudo-Buchananite argument—that the white vote is important for symbolic and totemic purposes beyond the actual tally—is a favorite of the political press. At best, VandeHei and Allen are regurgitating the Republican argument that there are “real Americans” who vote Republican and then there is everyone else. The converse argument—that the Republican Party’s overwhelming reliance on white votes while the Democrats represent a broader cross-section of the country means that the GOP would lack a mandate—is rarely made. When VandeHei and Allen address the GOP’s growing demographic problem, it’s merely a matter of numbers and winning elections. They do not question whether a party whose supporters are 91 percent white would have a mandate to govern an increasingly diverse nation. 

VandeHei and Allen’s delegitimization of nonwhite voters is reprehensible in and of itself, but it’s also historically illiterate. Race may affect perceptions of Barack Obama, but Democrats began having a white voter problem decades ago. In 1964, Johnson carried nonwhites by Barack Obama-like margins because his opponent Barry Goldwater, though not himself a racist, made common cause with white supremacists

Johnson memorably declared after signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act that “we have lost the South for a generation,” which in hindsight was less prophetic than optimistic. Johnson’s prophecy, however, helps shed light on the details of the Democrats’ “white voter problem,” details that VandeHei and Allen ignore. When you look at the white working-class vote by region, for example, Democrats remain competitive everywhere but in the South, where they get crushed

So it’s not simply that VandeHei and Allen are positing that only a majority of white voters can deliver a mandate for a president. It’s that they’ve unwittingly given a specific subset of white voters in the states of the old Confederacy—the same states that once attempted to secede from the Union in order to preserve their authority to buy and sell human beings and that dumped the Democratic Party over its repeal of American apartheid—a veto on the ability of the first black president to enact his agenda. The last few decades have seen dramatic changes in the South, but the past still matters.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest