Mouring the Jackalope

30 years ago in Macomb County, Michigan, white blue collar workers voted en masse for Ronald Reagan. Pollster Stan Greenberg termed these people “Reagan Democrats.” While I am loathed to cite Wikipedia on matters political, the entry factually notes that “Researchers have not tracked what political path these voters took after the end of the Reagan and the elder Bush administrations.”

Nonetheless, 30 years after Reagan’s victory, 4 Presidents later, and a sea change of employment and demographic shifts across America, David Frum is sad to see them leave. Never mind that (A) they haven’t really existed in a while and (B) they are generally to the right of Frum on the ground he wants to cede to attract voters to the GOP.

Frum mourns the loss of the Jackalope of modern American politics based on this Gallup poll.

The poll shows that among white voters, more identify themselves as Republican than Democrat and more identify themselves as moderate/liberal than conservative. Black, Hispanic, and Asian voters are not broken down. Frum writes

If it’s right that white conservative Republicans make up 23% of the population and that white conservative Democrats make up another 6%, things do not look promising for advocates of an all-conservative electoral strategy.

He goes on to tilt his windmill into the picture:

There’s no winning for the GOP without moderates, independents and at least a slice of the non-white vote.

First, I don’t know anyone who thinks the GOP will win a majority without a few Frum types mixed in. It is called a coalition for a reason. The more important debate is who is in charge.

Second, Frum’s lament rests on a very short survey that does not extrapolate trends among minority groups. I guess Frum considers them all, despite much evidence to the contrary, to also be moderate/liberal.

While true that Black voters overwhelming vote Democrat, Asian and Hispanic voters are still in play. And they, along with a handful of Black votes (more when Obama is not on the ballot) are persuaded on socially conservative issues like gay marriage (see California) and abortion (see Catholic voters in minority groups).

Now, we have to be charitable here. David Frum has built his carriage house of cards on the premise that the GOP needs to reject icky conservative social issues to win back Washington. Should the GOP make big gains in 2010 without abandoning those issues, Frum’s minor relevancy today will be even less so. When you tilt at your vanity powered windmills from the carriage house behind your home, the winds of change can make you nervous.

Here though is my take on the same polling:

More white voters now view themselves as Republican than Democrat despite the present bad branding in the GOP.

Gallup lumped the moderates and liberals together, though a good number of moderates typically lean at a gut level toward the conservative position.

Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians are not broken out, but a good majority of them will, on social issues, lean conservative and on a fiscal issues there is still solid ground among Asians (though a small group) and Hispanics.

Lastly, this poll deals with “all Americans,” not the much more relevant and no more elusive “voter” — a group more ascertainable than “Reagan Democrat” and who, according to exit polling, lean conservative over liberal by about ten points, with independents in the lead. And that, for electoral politics and policy creation, is more relevant than a general survey of the American population’s political leanings. Why? Because if you don’t vote, you don’t really count.

There are plenty of red flags for conservatives and Republicans. Losing Reagan Democrats is not one of them. And, again, Frum’s lament is for the disappearance of a group that would largely not agree with him on the social issues he wants to reject. Likewise, even without this group, the GOP, according to data from the same polling company on whom Frum is basing this lament, shows the GOP is set to make gains in 2010 without Frum’s prescription.

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Erick Erickson

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