When I voted in the Primary Election last month, I asked the election judge for a Democratic ballot. I’d been thinking about voting against Rick Santorum in the Republican primary, but his campaign looked dead. So I decided to vote against my state representative in the Democratic primary, because she had helped pass Rahm Emanuel’s speed camera bill.
“That’s surprising,” the judge said.
“Why is it surprising?” I asked. “Because I’m a 45-year-old white male? You’re doing ethnic profiling.”
“No,” she said. “Just thinking aloud.”
I can understand her surprise. According to opinion surveys and exit polls, I’m supposed to be a Republican. I’m white. I’m a man. I’m straight. I’m over 45. I go to a (Protestant) church. I have a bachelor’s degree. According to those demographics, the odds of my voting for Mitt Romney this fall are at least 75 percent. On the other hand, I’m not married and I earn less than $100,000 a year. So that may reduce my odds of voting for Romney to, oh, 67 percent. (I can tell you what the actual odds are: zero. The paperback version of Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President is coming out in September. Not only am I a longtime admirer of the president, if Obama loses, it’s going to be selling for six cents on Amazon.)
Admit it, though. You’ve looked at an older white guy before and thought “Republican.” You’ve also looked at a slim, young black woman and thought “Democrat.” Most of the time, you were right. I’m bringing this up because the 2012 election is already being portrayed as a battle between women and minorities, who favor Obama, and white guys who are grumpy about not having one of their own in the White House for the first time in history.
According to recent polls, President Obama leads Romney among non-white voters, by as much as 78 percent to 17 percent. Romney is getting around 60 percent of the white male vote.
The 2012 election comes at a time when the country is in the middle of a seismic shift in its demographics. Racial attitudes are also changing, for better or worse, with rising numbers of minorities and immigrants now more than 30 percent of the population. But in political terms, the GOP has failed to bring any substantial part of that growing population into its ranks. The heart of the party remains senior white voters who are resisting the loss of the America they grew up in 50 years ago.
At the same, the Democrats are rallying their female supporters by accusing the Republicans of waging a “War on Women,” over such issues as abortion and equal pay.
In Illinois, though, the results are different. In 2008, Obama won 51 percent of the white vote, and 57 percent of the male vote, making this one of the few states where he won a majority of the white vote and the male vote. (Although Obama still didn’t win the white male vote.) Illinois is an urban state, and urban voters are more Democratic. Illinois is also Obama’s home state, and a state where white voters have a history of voting for black candidates.
The point is, our surface demographics don’t always determine our political decisions. But that seems to be how both parties plan to treat us this year. Maybe I need to start carrying a copy of my book everywhere.
Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!