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Very Bad Poll Numbers

Politico reports that President Barack Obama's approval rating has dropped to its lowest point yet.  Only 44 percent of registered voters surveyed said they approve of the way Obama is handling his job, while 48 percent disapprove of the president's performance.  And then this: "All of the bad polling data for the president is reflected in the fact that a plurality say they would vote for an unnamed Republican challenger over the president in 2012."  Here is the Qunnipiac Poll.
Categories > Presidency

Discussions - 18 Comments

Richard Fernandez discusses that in "Jurassic Farce" saying "While black support remains steady the other ethnic components of his base are falling away." and then he talks about jobs and the effect of the racialization of politics on job seekers, and mentions the failure of the president's economic policies to do anything positive for the economy as the true reason for disillusionment.

I suppose when blacks are equally disillusioned with the president and abandon him and his policies we could know that American racial politics is truly at an end. Ah. I have a dream.

Never happen, Kate. For at least two generations black people have been taught grievance; "blackness" is their master status, and it's the lens by which they view the world. At least, for the majority of them (lest Pete jump down my throat and call me a racist again).

Hasn't the time come to accept the fact that the most ethnocentric people in the country are in fact black people? It's not really their fault, having been taught this in a thousand different ways by an establishment that not only tolerates it but actually encourages it. Indeed, I've actually heard it argued that black people can't be prejudice because they lack social power (what nonsense).

The results of that poll would indicate there is truth in what you say, but the president being black might be something of a special case. I can see where that might beg unity and do have one friend of mixed race who has totally shifted her politics away from conservatism because of Obama. But only one and most conservatives of color are so because they are not interested in racial politics. Heck, she didn't used to be, but is now.

I have heard that last argument you mention, but framed that we cannot take black's prejudices against whites as a threat to society because they lack power. I tried to figure out to explain that to my sweet-natured little granddaughter who overheard a black father loudly telling his son to "get" the white kids who got better grades, emphasizing his words with a gesture she did not understand.

Actually, that turned out to have little to do with color because the kid who got beaten up later that day by this kid is the dark-skinned son of Indian immigrants. ("Isn't he black, too, Nona?") When his mother and my daughter-in-law backing her up complained to the teacher and then to principal, they were told there nothing the school could do. I cannot explain racial politics in America to a six-year old. Have you got rational answer for that? I mean one clear enough that a child could understand it.

No, I don't think there is any effective way to explain such ugliness to a small child. It's just part and parcel of the sadness that we call "growing up."

But your anecdote spotlights the real problem. Instead of doing something productive to better their situation, too many black people are "levelers," seeking to drag others down to their (perceived) level. And given such stories, why would anyone wonder why white Americans seek to live in exclusive suburbs in mostly-white school districts.
Except for the hardest-core progressives, people don't experiment with their children's lives/prospects.

As for the apparent loyalty of the black electorate to Obama, it's understandable, but that doesn't make it any less racist. Whenever white Americans are perceived as supporting someone because of racial kinship, the long knives come out. Enough of double standards!

Redwald, I don't hold much hope for the Republicans winning a majority of the African American vote at the presidential level in 2012 (or in closely contested races for Senate and such.) I doubt there will be any greater that tiny marginal gains for whoever the Republican presidential candidate is (maybe 9% rather than 4%) and maybe not even that. But there is more than just the presidential election on 2012 to think about. There are all the other races at differerent levels and maybe future presidential races that could benefit from an investment by the center-right (to include not merely the Republican Party but conservative intellectuals, activists, fouundations, 527s) in building up the legitimacy of conservative (and on the national level largely Republican) politics within the African American community. African Americans should not be the only community in which conservatives should invest in coalitional recruitment of course, but it strikes me that this is a period where, to the extent that there is a conservative political leadership, this ledership should be thinking and planning about the kinds of long term investments that could lead to producing a majority coalition on the basis of a broad policy agenda. I'm not seeing it.

Ramesh Ponnuru hinted at the problem in this bloggingheads conversation, but the complexity of the problem is awesome - which i I guess is one reason why no one (including little old me) hasn't done much about it.

I think Peter Schramm has advanced this discussion with the post above -- -- He is not answering you with Webb's article, but it speaks to this conversation. You'll like what Webb says. I hope no one calls him "racist" for saying it.

My response to my granddaughter's question was, "Well, Kipling would have said so." which made my son laugh, but wasn't much help, really. My daughter-in-law is going to home school next year, but Arjun's parents find that alien and experimental, just in the way you use the word. They think it is a risk.

Kate, Jim Webb is a good Scotch-Irish boy, and has written "Born Fighting" to talk about those "other white folk" who never really got a fair shake. I'm sure someone will call him a racist, if only to discredit his POV and prop up the diversity machine.

Pete, "center-right" often degrades into "RINOism." We've had enough of it, and a few miserly votes from black people aren't enough to justify the slippery slope. As I've said before, we need to do what the Tea Party is doing -- standing steadfast on a few firm principles. If black and Hispanic folks want to join the party, well belly up to the bar! If not, so be it. Pandering to them (and that's what I think would happen) just means we sell out, again.

Redwald the conflation of constituency addition with RINOism is a fallacy. The programatic basis for a political coalition could go in multiple (though of course not infinite) directions. One can imagine a program aimed at white upper middle-class social liberals and economic modertates(call it the Terminator strategy) that is well to the left of a program and strategy aimed at winning over whites, Latinos and African Americans based on a set of proposals that shift policy to the right on both the social and economic issues. And a strategy of waiting for potential coalition partners to just show up (especially given media consumption patterns) should not be confused with principle and will, in the long run, do about as well as it deserves to.

The only strategy I see working is "family values" and the religious/cultural angle. That has worked in places like California with the gay marriage issue.

On strictly economic and political issues, I just don't see it. The black population is far too dependent on the Federal government for both benefits and (more importantly) employment. Hispanics are the low men on the totem pole, and they know it.

Pete, I think your problem is that you expect politics to be a finely-tuned game. It isn't. People vote on very broad-based, quasi-symbolic themes that concern their identities as citizens and human beings. This is why Obama's "hope and change" drivel sold so well -- people don't want wonk-talk, they want something akin to religion. Now it's true that "bread and butter" issues matter (Maslow's hierarchy strikes again!), but very few politicians at the national level win because they are better technicians at economic or political issues. Most of the time, it comes down to who is the better symbolic leader. This is why people like Dukakis, Kerry, and McCain lose, but people like Reagan, Bush Jr., and Obama win. The charisma factor is very important in the media age.

I might also add that those minorities you hope to woo have had their brains filled with racial/ethnic resentment for decades. The "white man" has been the scapegoat for all that indoctrination. If you want to counteract it, your message has to be some kind of meta-theme like religion or American exceptionalism. Multiple "tailored" messages to different audiences is gonna be a loser -- it smacks of a real lack of integrity.

Redwald, I think that a "family values" as a substitute rather than a supplement for an economic strategy is too lazy to either work or deserve to work. If you can't explain to people how your policies stand to improve their lives in language they can understand the you should think again and work on it. Thats what Reagan did in winning over audiences whose brains had been "filled" with pro-FDR propaganda and were inclined to "scapegoat" the Republican Party as being for the rich "MAN." You can't replicate charisma or a historical moment, but trying to win over audiences that aren't already on your side, don't consume the same media, and don't yet share your assumptions of the good guys and bad guys in politics is hard. Refusing to make an effort to win them over based on shared principles and policy preferences might not be wrong (there might be reasons of prudence or limited resource), but it has nothing to do with integrity.

Of course we should articulate policies, and we should explain how they help people. Unfortunately, some of our policies WON'T help black folks (cutting back on Federal employment and benefits directly affects their welfare). Cracking down on immigration may or may not help Hispanics (depending on their aims as a population).

Spin it however you want, but people tend to understand their basic interests. Oh sure, we can have mutuality on specific policies, but on the basic issues our interests are often at loggerheads with theirs. We can't co-opt most of them -- we have to BEAT them.

Redwald, I would say that the economic interests of both of those groups are internally diverse. There are lots of African American and Latino small businesspersons and workers employed in the private sector (and even those categories are complicated and the specific structures of their interests would make them either more or less receptive to the kinds of policies I have in mind), and that does not exhaust the populations within those groups that could stand to benefit from say tax policies that benefited parents and made job creation and economic growth easier or that brought down the rate of increase for health insurance premiums increased security, and maybe even made Medicaid a better program (as in Indiana under Daniels.) The prospect of greater take home pay and cheaper, more secure health coverage would, as a matter of economic benefits have cross racial and cross ethnic appeal. The Republicans haven't been making those cases to anybody really, never mind the communication challenges of communicating those messages to members of groups who don't consume much right-leaning media. The Republicans shouldn't be surprised that, in not having much of a product (see the Arizona Republican senatorial debate), and not selling it, they don't do well among constituencies that aren't already on their side.

Pete, ask yourself why the Conservative Party of Canada has almost no representation in Quebec and why the membership of four of the five political parties in Ulster is confessionally exclusive. Hint: it is not their politico-economic programme. Political affiliation is an aspect of identity in certain circumstances. For blacks, it did not used to be, but it is now. Both political parties have long been vehicles for cultural minorities of one sort or another. The specific alignments change, but that feature of political life is (if anything) more intense now than it was a generation ago.

Re, Redwald's other remarks:

Over 70% of the workforce are wage-earners. I believe among blacks the proportion is more in the range of 85%. The federal civil service comprehends only about 15% of all public employees. I think if we all examine the stats, we are not going to find that that the proportion of public employees (much less the federal civil service) who are black is all that inflated. Rather, blacks with salaried positions show a heavy preference for public employment. I would wager, however, that the interests of that salaried minority have a vigorous effect on the public discourse within the black population.

WIth regard to doles..

thirty years ago, only a minority of working-age blacks (perhaps 25%) were at any given time beneficiaries of long-term doles or subventions to mundane expenditure. Since AFDC was replaced with TANF, which has a term limit, I imagine it is considerably less at this time, at least for cash. (I have the impression the Social Security Administration and other agencies are more conservative about awarding disability benefits than was once the case, but that is only an impression). The thing is, that is a cross-sectional figure. People have histories, they have relatives, they have friends....

AD, all very true, but political identity is reinforced or changed partially by actions (which is one reason why Democrats and allied organizations go to such lengths to preserve the very strong identification of African Americans with the Democratic Party) and circumstances. The construction of an economic agenda that could offer tangible short and medium term benefits to large numbers of African Americans (and people of all racial and ethnic groups) is important but would have to be part of a larger strategy for changing - over time- opinion (and not everyone's opinion.) Political identities among subgroups are not infinitely malleable within the real world constraints of politics, but they are, to some extent, the products of things that have been said and done, and what is said and done (both by those internal and those external to the subgroups in question) can influence future developments. If I thought that the institutions of the center-right were doing a good job of communicating a relevant and attractive agenda to the African American community and still failing, I would be more pessimistic. To some extent, self-fulfilling prophecy can be an enemy and the hardest, slowest. most thankless work would be frontloaded.

You keep asserting that Republican campaign technicians have to make an effort and come up with some sort of secret sauce, not that you have any idea what might be in it. Experienced professionals have had forty-odd years of no success. You're environment is your environment and their are limits to your capacity to manipulate it at any given time. GIve it another fifty years, and maybe someone will be listening.

AD, I don't think that that anyone has to do anything in regards to winning over African American voters to the Republican Party. Probably little will be done. That I have no idea exactly how to do so, I would be the first to admit. I do have some general strategies that we have talked about. When it comes to making appeals to African American voters, I don't think that the institutions of the center-right (of which the Republican Party and its candidates are one part) aren't anywhere near the limits in the sense of what can be achieved through a better and better resourced strategy. You might be right in several senses. It might be true that the center-right simply lacks the political skill, will and resources to craft and implement such a strategy. That might be true about several of the challenges faced by the broad center-right (such as bringing the welfare state into alignment with government income without crushing increases in the tax burden.) You might also be right that no electorally significant number of people will listen or be moved though, and this is more intuitive and drawn from personal experience, I don't think that is the case.

Pete, it is not 'drawn from personal experience'. It is drawn from a rough and comparative inspection of recent electoral history. People's willingness to listen to you is derived in great measure from the antecedent level of trust they have in you. You can turn up the volume and broadcast more pervasively, but whatever you say, what they hear is static.

AD, it is correct that that, if your message is going to have immediate impact, an antecedent level of trust (and even a rooting interest) in an audience is helpful. Thats why I presume that the candidates in the Arizona Republican Senatorial primary communicated with someone despite mostly speaking in talking points disconnected from everyday life. The audience knew, or thought they knew, what the candidates were talking about. An audience that is unfamiliar with your policy prescriptions (assuming there are any) and unfamiliar with your general side of the ideological divide except as the caricatures that appears in media sources the audience consumes is unlikely to be convinced at first, or second, or third. The Democrats seem to think that their margins among African Americans are fragile enough as to require (even absent an effective center-right strategy) the steady practice of demonization . But that combination of unfamiliarity and (and some cases) hostility is not invincible - I don't think. The introduction of ideas, relevant policies and personalities can shift the internal debate within the African American community over time. The problem is that waiting for that trust while your opponents actively demonize you creates a self-sustaining situation.

So how to partially remedy? My ideas are vague and I don't have a good enough sense of the breakdown of audiences within media and the booking process. At a minimum (along with positive policy proposals), it would involve finding ways to get ideas drawn from the center-right out into media where they are presently not heard. Part of it would involve paid media. Part of it would involve finding ways to be heard (booked on?) media where conservatives are not now prominent. It seems to me that, given audience segmentation, turning up the volume is less the challenge than finding ways to talk to people who literally are not hearing you and have no idea what you believe except what your critics say (the one partial exception being presidential campaigns where something breaks through.) This is only one part of the larger conservative problem of communicating to those Americans who don't consume right-leaning media.

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