Sunday, September 7, 2008

Sarah Palin's Working Class Appeal

There's debate in the media today on whether Alaska Governor Sarah Palin will attract working-class voters to the McCain-Palin presidential ticket. Particularly interesting is the gender angle. The Los Angeles Times, for example, offers a front-page report entitled, "Sarah Palin's Appeal to Working-Class Women May Be Limited":


Palin, a little-known 44-year-old mother of five, burst onto the scene just days ago, presenting herself as the woman to finally shatter the glass ceiling cracked by the Democratic New York senator's historic candidacy.

But now, after a chaotic introductory week that sparked national debates on McCain's judgment, Palin's experience and even her teenage daughter's pregnancy, the initial signs are not entirely positive for the reinvigorated Republican ticket.

Interviews with some two dozen women here after Palin's convention speech found that these voters were not swayed by the fiery dramatic speeches or compelling personal biographies that marked both the Republican and Democratic conventions. Instead, they were thinking about the price of milk - nearly $5 a gallon - or the healthcare coverage that many working families here cannot afford.

Even if they admire Palin's attempt to juggle political ambition, an infant son with Down syndrome and a pregnant unwed daughter, these women say that maternal grit is not enough to win their votes.
The Times piece actually says little about how well Palin may pull working-class voters into the GOP column. The article cites some polling data indicating the Alaska Governor's generic support in public opinion (and on the abortion issue, in one example), but after that most of the evidence for estimating working-class support comes from a roughly two-dozen focus-group panel.

In contrast,
Carolyn Lochhead reports that the McCain campaign sees huge potential in Palin's working class appeal, and the organization is sending Todd Palin, Sarah's husband, out onto the hustings to rally the blue-collar vote:

Democrats do not think that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's arrival in the enemy camp changes Sen. Barack Obama's path to the White House. As far as they're concerned, Republican John McCain's running mate is President George W. Bush.

As Obama told voters in Pennsylvania on Friday, "This race is not a personality contest."

That bet is about to be tested.

Independent observers in Ohio think Palin does change the race, enhancing the GOP's appeal - not among the women who supported Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, but among white men. They say Palin's most potent weapon may even be her snowmobiler, union husband, Todd.

"If you see him turning up in Appalachian Ohio and up in Canton and Warren and the old steel towns, I think he would play very, very well," said Ken Heineman, an Ohio University political analyst. "If they try to go after his DUI conviction, jeez, his whole up-from-the-blue-collar thing? He's going to resonate very well among swing voters and among male Democrats, the blue-collar Democrats that Obama did not win in the primary. He would be an incredibly appealing figure, and of course, she is herself."

Discussions are underway to deploy Todd Palin, a McCain aide said, even though he has taken leave from his oil-field job to care for the couple's five children. He joked at an event Thursday, "If I had a crystal ball a few years ago, I might have asked a few more questions when Sarah decided to join the PTA."
I'm inclined to think that McCain may gain ground not only with working class voters, but with working-class women as well, many of whom do not fit the emerging Democratic demographic of appealing to highly educated "knowledge workers" and "bobos," and that's not to mention the Democrats' traditional appeal among urban minorities and racial identity groups. As Susan Page notes:

The nation is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, a diversity that has spread across the country. Aging Baby Boomers remain the biggest generational group in the electorate, but second in size are the Millennials — 18- to 31-year-olds who have distinctive attitudes toward race and politics. In the space of a generation, Americans have seen dramatic changes in the roles of women, the structure of families and the nature of the workplace. There has been a revolution in the technology that delivers information and knits communities.

Presidential nominees John McCain and Barack Obama personify that changing nation in striking ways. In age, race and life experience — even in use of innovative technology in the campaign — they mirror a nation in transition.

Some analysts are predicting that the 2008 election — like the one in 1980 that brought the election of Ronald Reagan as president and set the nation on a more conservative course — looms as a landmark contest in which the country is receptive to change.

"This is a pivotal moment in the sense that the politics is catching up to the demographic changes," says William Frey, a Brookings Institution scholar who analyzes population trends.

Democratic pollster Geoffrey Garin calls Democrat Obama — who's 47, biracial and multiethnic — "the face of the new generation" who has mobilized millions of younger voters this year.

But Garin notes that some, especially older white voters, find Obama's message and background — he is a first-term Illinois senator who spent nearly as long as a community organizer as he has in Congress — unpersuasive and even discomfiting.
If the clear demographic differences between the party constituencies become even more prounounced over the next two months, then the McCain-Palin ticket may end up demonstrating the kind of traction with the working-class that marked the later stages of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

But note Michael van der Galien's take on the GOP's working class appeal:

... with ‘their nomination of Barack Obama, the Democrats have intensified their image as the party of minorities and the upper part of white America. Among whites, Democrats increasingly draw their votes from the educated, from those who have enjoyed success in a destabilizing postmodern culture and global economy.’ Republicans, on the other hand, have, by choosing Sarah Palin, ‘reasserted their identity as the party of white working-class America - of those who worry about cultural and economic threats to their families.’

The result may very well be that Republicans will once again succeed in getting the support from working class America; quite possibly to the great regret of Democrats, who may find it qutie hard to win elections without it.
That's sounds like a pretty good analysis to me.

Cartoon Credit:
Cincinnati Enquirer