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White Men Are the New Soccer Moms

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kevin_can_wait

It’s odd how the arbitrarily selected Demographic That Matters This Election never involves poor people of color:

What about white men, specifically? Their privileged status as the soccer moms of this election cycle is, in itself, somewhat puzzling. As Lynn Vavreck has noted, the most significant political shifts from 2012 to 2016 have come not among white men but among white women, who are supporting Hillary Clinton much more strongly than they did Obama a remarkable shift of 8 percentage points.

In contrast, Trump has made no gain at all among white men relative to Romney’s performance, doing a few points better among those without college degrees but 5 points worse among those with college degrees. (Notwithstanding that fact, the New York Times, characteristically, put white men in the headline of Vavreck’s piece.)

The real appeal of focusing on white men is that doing so facilitates a facile juxtaposition of real economic experience and an apparent political response — support among white men for the Republican Party and for Trump in particular. Thus, for example, political scientist Howard Rosenthal grounded an account of why “white men love Donald Trump so much” in a detailed exposition of the decades-long stagnation of their real incomes.

But when he turned to the question of why “white men relocated to the GOP” in response to this prolonged income stagnation, Rosenthal pivoted seamlessly from hard economic data to pure symbolism, blaming “a shift in the Democratic Party’s platform” rhetoric from social welfare programs to social identity. The 2016 Democratic platform, he noted, “has many economic references to women and people of color” — rhetoric that Rosenthal somehow parses as “an implicitly negative position on the relative economic fortunes of white males.”

Perhaps many white men see it the same way. As Christopher Achen and I have argued, voters’ choices are often more about “validating their social and political identities” than about concrete policies and economic interests. Symbolic appeals (or perceived slights) are likely to be especially potent in hard times. But it seems worth asking: Does “implicitly negative” partisan rhetoric have any bearing at all on the actual economic fortunes of white men?

I’ll set the over/under for stories in major newspapers in which reporters visit rust belt cities and can’t find any women or people of color for the remainder of the campaign at 200.

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