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White Males Are Still McCain’s Biggest Trump Card

New America Media, Commentary, Earl Ofari Hutchinson Posted: Sep 18, 2008

Editor's Note: New polls in five battleground states that could decide the presidency suggest the fight for the White House between Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama remains a dead heat. But it should not surprise anyone that McCain's stock is high with white male voters because they have traditionally backed GOP Presidential candidates, writes NAM commentator Earl Ofari Hutchinson.

Much is being made of Republican presidential contender John McCain’s bump up among male GOP regulars and independents after the Republican convention. But that’s badly misleading. Males, especially white males, have been the trump card for GOP winning presidents and even losing GOP presidential candidates for more than four decades.

Bush was only the latest to score big with white male voters. They gave Republican Presidents Bush Sr., Reagan, and Nixon the decisive margin of victory over their Democratic opponents in their presidential races. The majority of the men who voted for the GOP presidents were not the stereotypical gun-rack, beer-guzzling, blue collar Joes. A huge percent were middle to upper income, college educated, and lived in a suburban neighborhood. Fewer than one in five labeled themselves as liberal.

In a CNN 2004 presidential election voter profile, males made up slightly more than 40 percent of the American electorate, and of that percentage, white males comprised 36 percent, or one in three American voters. But even before the first votes were cast in 2004, the signs were that conservative leaning males would again play a decisive role in that year’s presidential contest. In an ABC/Washington Post Poll in December 2003, Bush netted more than 60 percent of the white male vote in a head-to-head contest with any male Democratic presidential candidate (former Illinois Senator Carol Moseley Braun was a candidate briefly). Southern born and bred Bill Clinton's tilt-to-the right centrism couldn't shake the iron grip of Republicans on conservative males.

Bush Sr. in 1992 and Republican challenger Bob Dole in 1996 got fewer white male votes than Reagan and Nixon. But many of those votes didn't go to Clinton. Insurgent presidential candidate Ross Perot, with his anti-government assaults in 1992 and 1996, grabbed many of them. Pat Buchanan also appealed to many white male voters with his freewheeling hard-right rants when he ran as an independent candidate in 2000. In 2000, exit polling showed that while white women backed Bush over Democratic Presidential contender Al Gore by 3 percentage points, white men backed Bush by 27 percentage points. Without the backing of Southern white males for Bush in 2000, Gore would have easily won the White House, and the Florida vote debacle would have been a meaningless sideshow.

In the 2004 election, the early polls that showed Bush getting 60 percent of the white male votes were completely accurate. In the South, he garnered more than 70 percent of their vote. Four years later, the margin was 26 points for Bush over Democratic presidential rival John Kerry among white males. Bush swept Kerry in every one of the Old Confederacy states and three out of four of the Border States. That insured another Bush White House.

The intense and unshakeable loyalty of working and middle class men to the GOP is not new and the reasons for it are not hard to find. The gender gap was first identified and labeled in the 1980 contest between Reagan and Carter. That year, Reagan pulled in more than a 20 percent difference in the margin of male votes he got over Carter. By comparison, women voters split almost evenly down the middle in backing both Reagan and Carter. Men didn’t waver from their support of Reagan during his years in office. In fact, many of them made no secret about why they liked him. His reputed toughness, firmness and refusal to compromise on issues of war and peace fit neatly into the stereotypically “male” qualities of professed courage, determination and toughness.

Though the penchant for males to back Republican presidents gave Bush the electoral edge in the race against Gore in 2000, Gore won the popular vote as well as the electoral votes in more than a dozen states, and women voters provided the margin for victory in those states for him.

The GOP’s grip on male voters, however, could have even spelled doom for Bill Clinton in his reelection bid in 1996.

If women had not turned out in large numbers and voted heavily for Clinton, GOP presidential contender Robert Dole may well have beat him out. While men rate defense, a strong military, the war on terrorism and national security as high on their list of concerns, women say abortion rights, education, social security, health care, equal pay and job advancement, and equal rights are highest on their list of concerns.

While racial, gender, and economic tensions and fears were driving forces behind white male devotion to the GOP, they're hardly the only reason for their political love affair with the party. Republicans have also played hard on the anger and frustration that many males harbor toward government.

In this election, nothing has changed. The same male trump card that’s been effective for past GOP presidential candidates is still very much on the table for McCain on Election Day. It’s a formidable hand for Obama to beat.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).

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