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Krugman's Latest Attack on Obama Not Supported by Evidence

By Alan Abramowitz

Paul Krugman continues his bashing of Barack Obama by attacking Mr. Obama's recent comments about "bitter small town voters." In his recent column, Krugman makes two claims about the political behavior of white working class voters that he says prove that Obama's characterization of these voters was simply incorrect. Leaving aside the fact that Krugman is taking Obama's comments out of context and distorting their real meaning, both of Krugman's claims are demonstrably false.

1. Krugman claims that the relationship between frequency of church attendance and Republican voting is much weaker among lower income white voters than among upper income white voters. This claim is not supported by evidence from the 2004 national exit poll. According to the exit poll data, the relationship was equally strong among lower and upper income white voters. Among white voters with family incomes of less than $30 thousand, George Bush was supported by 68% of those who reported attending church more than once per week vs. 33% of those who reported never attending church. Among white voters with family incomes of $100 thousand or more, Bush was supported by 81% of those who reported attending church more than once per week vs. 46% of those who reported never attending church. Thus, while upper income whites consistently supported Bush at a higher rate than lower income whites, the difference in support between the most and least frequent church-goers was identical in the two groups.

2. Citing the research of Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels, Krugman claims that Democrats do better among working class voters now than they did during the 1960s and that the success of the Republican Party in American politics since that time is entirely explained by GOP gains in the South. But this is simply not the case. Republican gains in the South are only part of the story of GOP success since the 1960s. Republicans have also made significant gains among white voters outside of the South, and these gains have been especially striking among two groups that were once mainstays of the New Deal Democratic coalition: Catholics and blue collar workers.

According to data from the American National Election Studies, Democratic identification (including leaning independents) among white voters outside of the South fell from 50% to 44% between 1962-70 and 2002-2004 while Republican identification rose from 45% to 51%. Thus, an eight point Democratic advantage during the 1960s was transformed into a seven point Republican advantage in 2002-2004.

But Republican gains were much larger among two key Democratic constituencies. Among northern white Catholics, Democratic identification fell from 65% during the 1960s to 44% in 2002-2004 while Republican identification rose from 26% to 49%. Thus a 39 point Democratic advantage among northern white Catholics was transformed into a five point Republican advantage. Similarly, among northern white blue collar workers, Democratic identification fell from 61 percent during the 1960s to 41 percent in 2002-2004 while Republican identification rose from 31 percent to 48 percent. Thus, a 20 point Democratic advantage among northern white blue collar workers was transformed into a seven point Republican advantage.

It is clear from these data that the Democratic Party's problems in recent years have not been confined to white voters in the South. Democrats have also lost ground among white ethnic and working class voters outside of the South, voters who were once crucial components of the party's electoral base. While Barack Obama's formulation of the problems that the Democratic Party has been having with these voters may not have been artful, there is no doubt that the problem is real.

Dr. Alan Abramowitz is the Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science at Emory University, and the author of Voice of the People: Elections and Voting Behavior in the United States (2004, McGraw-Hill).

Copyright 2008, RealClearPolitics


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