After writing about Virginia and West Virginia polling yesterday, I got thinking about one of the discussions that is not taking place on the internet right now. The question is pretty simple: who will be the swing voters of 2008? Several possible answers. But let me start with some facts, provided by Democrats:
In 2000, Gore lost white working class (defined as whites with less than a four year college degree) voters by 17 points; this year, Kerry lost them by 23 points, a swing of 6 points against the Democrats. In contrast, Gore lost college-educated whites by 9 points and Kerry lost them by 10 points–not much change.
Therefore, white working class voters were responsible for almost all of Bush’s increased margin among whites as a whole (which went from 12 to 17 points). And Bush’s increased margin among whites, of course, was primarily responsible for his re-election.
Now, if I were to imagine a state that was "white working class" writ-large, I would probably be talking about places like West Virginia. If GOP margins fall in this subgroup from 2004 levels, then we need to make up the difference in the suburbs.
So let’s speculate for a second why the white working class voters — Reagan Democrats and their children — would be voting GOP. There are probably two answers: security and cultural issues. Economic issues aren’t like to be among them. These are natural Democratic voters on economic issues and Republicans on other issues. Things like gay marriage, abortion-on-demand, hanging out with hollywood, etc. allow GOPers to create real cultural distance between the liberal elite (latte-drinking, etc.) of the Democratic party and this group of swing voters. And it probably isn’t so much any one issue as the cultural distance in general.
Now, what’s going to happen to these voters in this election? Bill Clinton is going to go in and say, "Did 8 years of Bush really work for you? Try coming home to the Democratic Party and give me and Hillary a chance. Remember how good you had it in the 90s? We can do that again." That is going to be a compelling message to significant numbers. Oh yeah, and Iraq probably isn’t helping us. (Incidentally, I don’t think that Obama could do this credibly, for a bunch of reasons)
So the strategic problem for the GOP is going to be how to stop the bleeding there and reach out to the suburban voters. Each of our candidates is going to have a different general election strategy for keeping working class voters. Rudy Giuliani’s 9/11 narrative, the general persona, and his working class roots will help. Mitt Romney’s universal healthcare will help, although I wonder if the zillionnaire thing plus his religion will get in the way. I can see Thompson doing well with these voters.
Then we are going to need a strategy to get the suburbs back.