It goes without question that, if President Obama wins reelection, he will have done so with one of the most diverse coalitions ever assembled by a major party nominee. He will have won large majorities of women, young people, African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans.
To most observers, this narrow majority of voters represents a broad cross-section of the country. To Politico’s Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, it’s a dangerously limited coalition. Why? Because it doesn’t include enough white people, and particularly, downscale white men:
If President Barack Obama wins, he will be the popular choice of Hispanics, African-Americans, single women and highly educated urban whites. That’s what the polling has consistently shown in the final days of the campaign. It looks more likely than not that he will lose independents, and it’s possible he will get a lower percentage of white voters than George W. Bush got of Hispanic voters in 2000.
A broad mandate this is not.
This is a not a new narrative. After the 2008 election, when Obama became the first Democrat in 36 years to win a majority of the popular vote, conservative writer Byron York argued that if you excluded the African American vote, Obama wasn’t as popular as he looked. And just last week, another Politico reporter—James Hohmann—wrote that “white voters still matter,” as if they were some kind of marginalized group.
To a large degree, white Americans—and white men, in particular—are still treated as the “default” voter, for whom politicians must focus their appeals. When Mitt Romney held a rally with coal workers in Ohio, he was trying to “broaden his appeal.” When President Obama focuses on immigration and reproductive health—core issues for Latinos and women—he’s “pandering.” The alternative view—that white men are a special interest whose voting is out of sync with the rest of the country—is rarely entertained, despite the fact that it is closer to the truth.
In any case, a vote is a vote is a vote, and the votes of minorities, young people, and women are worth just as much as the votes of white men, married white women, and other Republican-leaning groups. If Obama wins on Tuesday, it will be because a non-traditional but just as American group of voters decided he was the best choice for the next four years.
With that said, I expect Obama’s low support among white voters to become a bullet point in the inevitable conservative case against his “legitimacy” should he win. The usual suspects on the Right will argue, loudly, that a president who loses a majority of the white vote isn’t a president who represents “Americans,” narrowly defined.