White American Voters – Cain, Obama, Immigration – The Split

How do you explain the entirely different world seen by white conservatives and that seen by the rest of us?

Some recent studies get into that, racial politics, and immigration…

 

Two Worlds of Whites

On the day after Barack Obama’s sweeping victory in 2008, veteran Democratic pollster Stanley B. Greenberg described the modern Democratic coalition as diverse America and the whites who are comfortable with diverse America.

That appears to be even more true today. The line between whites who are comfortable with the racial and ethnic change transforming America into a “world nation” and those uneasy about it increasingly looks like one of the most important boundaries of the 2012 campaign.

The big Pew Center for the People and the Press generational survey released last week offers powerful evidence on that point. Overall, in the Pew survey, 47 percent of non-Hispanic whites agreed with the statement that “the growing number of newcomers from other countries are a threat to traditional American customs and values.” Exactly 50 percent of whites disagreed.

Like an Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor survey released earlier this summer, Pew found that whites comfortable with the demographic changes now underway express very different attitudes than those uneasy about it on President Obama, the role of government, and the choices in the 2012 election.

Among the whites who find the increasing number of newcomers troubling, Obama’s approval rating in the new Pew survey stood at just 21 percent with 70 percent disapproving. The president runs much more strongly among whites comfortable with the changes: 45 percent of them approved, while 47 percent disapproved.

Both whites comfortable and uneasy about the trends say they prefer a smaller government offering fewer services to a larger government offering more services. But the uneasy whites prefer a smaller government by 40 percentage points; among the whites comfortable with the change the gap is only 17 points.

Most dramatic was the divergence between these two groups of whites in a hypothetical Obama-Mitt Romney race in 2012. Whites who consider the demographic change a threat prefer Romney over Obama by a crushing three-to-one: 72 percent to 24 percent. In stark contrast, among whites comfortable with the change, Obama led Romney 52 percent to 44 percent.

As I wrote in a column this summer analyzing the similar Heartland Monitor findings, these trends don’t “mean that opposition to Obama is primarily, or even largely, driven by racial resentment. But it does suggest that attitudes about the nation’s changing racial composition now overlap and reinforce the more familiar ideological divides, such as differences over social issues and the role of government, that separate the two parties’ electoral coalitions.” Obama may sharpen these differences by embodying, in such a personal way, the demographic changes reshaping American life.

For a closer look at the mammoth Pew study – in particular, for a look at the intersection between generational and demographic change – check out Friday’s National Journal magazine.

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