Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Closing of the Racial Voting Gap Is a Feature, Not a Bug

Nate Cohn has a good article on the NYT site about the shrinkage of the racial gap in voting in this election. The basic idea is simple: Biden's stronger performance against Trump in this cycle relative to Clinton in 2016 is the resultant of two forces: (1) Biden is doing quite a bit better than Clinton among white voters; and (2) Biden is lagging Clinton's performance among nonwhite voters, with the electoral benefit from (1) far outweighing the electoral harm from (2).
Cohn notes:
"The decrease in racial polarization defies the expectations of many analysts, who believed a campaign focused on appeals to issues like Black Lives Matter or “law and order” would do the opposite. It may also upset the hopes of some activists on the left who viewed an embrace of more progressive policies on race as a way to help Democrats carve a new path to the presidency. This path would have been powered by overwhelming support from nonwhite voters, reducing the need to cater to the more conservative white voters who backed Mr. Trump four years ago. Instead, Mr. Biden leads because of gains among those very voters."
Well, it didn't "defy the expectations" of *this* analyst. I always thought the idea that Democrats could win through supercharged nonwhite support and turnout generated by race-based issues was a foolish strategy for winning a Presidential election. More white support was key, especially among the white noncollege demographic. In a country where 70 percent or so of voters in his coming election will be white, and considerably more than that in a number of key states, simple political arithmetic suggested the necessity for Democrats to close the racial voting gap by bringing white support up. And that is what Biden's campaign has managed to do. That is very definitely a feature, not a bug.
Some of the particulars from Cohn:
"Over all, Mr. Trump leads among white voters by only five points in high-quality surveys conducted since the Republican National Convention in August, compared with a 13-point advantage in the final surveys before the 2016 election. Not only does Mr. Trump fall short of his own lead with that group from 2016, but he also underperforms every recent Republican presidential candidate since Bob Dole in 1996.
Mr. Biden’s gains among white voters are broad, spanning not only the groups expected to shift toward him — like white suburban women — but also the white working-class voters across the Northern battleground states who represented the president’s decisive strength four years ago.
Over all, Mr. Trump leads by 21 points among white voters without a degree, 58 percent to 37 percent, compared with his 29-point edge (59-30) in the final polls in 2016....By contrast, white college graduates back Mr. Biden by 21 points in recent polls, up from a 13-point edge for Mrs. Clinton in the final polls four years ago."
My figures from the Nationscape survey over the same time period are about the same for Trump's current lead among whites overall (6 points in this case) but the Nationscape survey sees Biden performing better among noncollege whites and his lead among college whites as more modest. My comparison to 2016 is to the final results rather than the final pre-election surveys and also shows a sharper move to Biden among noncollege whites, though the shift Cohn finds is still quite significant.
It's worth asking why Biden's nonwhite support still appears to be lagging behind Clinton's pre-election and final results from 2016. Even if that support firms up in the election--and I expect this will happen to some extent--it seems unlikely the Biden will do better than Clinton and may indeed run a bit behind. Nate Cohn has some very pertinent observations on this score that may not be to the liking of some progressive activists, but nevertheless contain a great deal of truth.
"In Times/Siena polling so far this fall, Black and Hispanic voters appear somewhat receptive to the kinds of conservative messages usually derided as racist dog whistles. In polling in September, for example, nonwhite voters split roughly evenly on whether “law and order” or the coronavirus was more important to their presidential vote. Nonwhite voters were likelier to say they thought Mr. Trump would do a better job handling “law and order” than they were to say they supported him over Mr. Biden.
It was not the first time this cycle that nonwhite voters defied the hopes of progressive activists. Black Democrats in Virginia were likelier than white Democrats to say Ralph Northam should remain as governor after the revelation of a 35-year-old racist photo on his medical school yearbook page. And Black voters backed Mr. Biden by overwhelming margins over a variety of more progressive challengers in the primary, despite his often conservative record on race and policing.
Many progressive policies for systematic change, like reparations for the descendants of slaves, defunding the police or removing Confederate monuments, fail to attract strong support in polls, suggesting that a focus on these issues could risk eroding Democratic standing. It also suggests a widening gap between the views of progressive activists and the rank-and-file of nonwhite voters."
As I have repeatedly argued, the assumption that the views and intense focus of progressive activists on race-based issues are representative of the views and concerns of the median black or Latino voter is simply wrong. The voters they claim they represent have different and typically more "kitchen table' priorities. That could be another lesson for progressives from this campaign.

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