On July 22, 2011, the Pew Foundation, analyzing voter identification, found that the GOP had gained strength among white voters, most specifically “the young and poor.”
A seven-point Democratic advantage among whites under age 30 three years earlier had turned into an 11-point GOP advantage.
And a 15-point Democratic advantage among whites earning less than $30,000 annually had swung to a slim four-point Republican edge.
- The GOP gains have occurred only among white voters.
- Republicans have made sizable gains among white voters since 2008.
- Fifty-two percent of white voters now call themselves Republicans or lean to the GOP, compared with 39% who affiliate with the Democratic Party or lean Democratic.
- Democrats have lost their edge among lower income white voters.
- In 2008, Democrats had a 15 point lead among white voters with family incomes less than $30,000. Republicans now have a four-point edge among this group.
- The GOP’s lead among middle income white voters also has grown since 2008, and Republicans hold a substantial advantage with higher income white voters.
- Republicans have made gains among whites with a high school education or less.
- The GOP’s advantage over Democrats grew from one point in 2008 to 17 points in 2011 among less educated whites.
- Republicans have made smaller gains among whites voters who have college degrees.
What is fascinating about these findings is this: The Republicans have, since 1980, pursued a policy of gutting programs aimed at helping the poor–while repeatedly creating tax-breaks for the wealthiest 1% of the population.
For Republicans, the patron saint of this “love-the-rich-screw-the-poor” ideology remains Ronald Reagan. Reagan served as governor of California (1967-1974) and President of the United States (1981-1989).
Among those charting Reagan’s legacy as President was former CBS Correspondent David Schoenbrun In his bestselling autobiography, America Inside Out: At Home and Abroad from Roosevelt to Reagan, he noted:
- On January 28, 1981, keeping a pledge to his financial backers in the oil industry, Reagan abolished Federal controls on the price of oil.
- Within a week, Exxon, Texaco and Shell raised gasoline prices and prices of home heating oil.
- Reagan saw it as his duty to put a floor under prices, not a ceiling above them.
- Reagan believed that when government helped business it wasn’t interfering. Loaning money to bail out a financially incompetent Chrysler was “supporting the free enterprise system.”
- But putting a high-profits tax on price-gouging corporations or filing anti-trust suits against them was “Communistic” and therefore intolerable.
- Tax-breaks for wealthy businesses meant helping America become stronger.
- But welfare for the poor or the victims of a predatory marketplace economy weakened America by sapping its morale.
“In short,” wrote Schoenbrun,”welfare for the rich is good for America. But welfare for the poor is bad for America, even for the poor themselves, for it encourages them to be shiftless and lazy.
“Somehow, loans to the inefficient management of American corporations would not similarly encourage them in their inefficient methods.”
Republicans have sought to dismantle Social Security ever since that program began in 1935. And Republicans have furiously opposed other programs aiding the poor and middle-class–such as Medicare, food stamps and WIC (Women, Infants, Children).
In short, this is not a political party with a history of rushing to the defense of those most in need.
So the question remains: Why are so many poor Americans now flocking to its banner?
Two reasons: Racism and greed. There are historical parallels for both.
In 1999, historian Victor Davis Hanson noted the huge gap in wealth between the aristocratic, slave-owning minority of the pre-Civil War South and the vast majority of poor white Southerners.
“Before the war in the counties Sherman would later ruin, the top 10% of the landowners controlled 40% of the assessed wealth.”
In contrast, “more than half of those who were lucky enough to own any property at all still possessed less than 15% of the area’s valuation.”
So Hanson asked: “Why did the millions of poor whites of the Confederacy fight at all?”
He supplied the answer in his brilliant work on military history, The Soul of Battle: From Ancient Times to the Present Day, How Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny.
One of those liberators was General William Tecumseh Sherman, who led 62,000 Union troops in a victorious “March to the Sea” through the Confederacy in 1864.
So why did so many poor Southern whites literally lay down their lives for the wealthy planter class, which despised them?