Saturday, November 5, 2022

Arwa Mahdawi on the White Female (Republican) Elephant in the Room as Americans Vote

Angie Maxwell and Todd Shields, The Long Southern Strategy: How Chasing White Voters in the South Changed American Politics (NY: Oxford UP, 2019), p. 9

Arwa Mahdawi comments on polling showing white suburban women trending strongly Republican in these final days before the election:

The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that white suburban women have “significantly shifted” their support from Democrats to Republicans amid “rising concerns over the economy and inflation”. The Journal found that white suburban women “now favor Republicans for Congress by 15 percentage points, moving 27 percentage points away from Democrats since the Journal‘s August poll”.

Then she notes,

Alas, white women have been voting against their own (reproductive) interests for a very long time. White women have voted for the Republican candidate in the past 18 presidential elections, the Washington Post has noted, “breaking only for Lyndon B Johnson and for Bill Clinton’s second term”. White women memorably voted in large numbers for Donald Trump, a proud misogynist. “The elephant in the room is white and female, and she has been standing there since 1952,” the political scientist Jane Junn wrote in 2016. “This result has been hiding in plain sight, obscured by a normative bias that women are more Democratic than men. They are … But this does not mean that white women are more Democratic overall. They are not.”

Count me as someone who has been dubious all along that white women would suddenly become savior figures as democracy fragments in the U.S. now. As Angie Maxwell and Todd Shields observe in The Long Southern Strategy: How Chasing White Voters in the South Changed American Politics (NY: Oxford UP, 2019), 

Though the samples are limited, the white women did exactly what white men in the South did, turning red over the course of the Long Southern Strategy. Ignoring southern white women not only results in a misperceived universality of the American gender gap, but it also concludes the Southern Strategy prematurely, which creates a shortsighted interpretation of the southern realignment. ...

In 2016, the idea of a female president was not an abstraction, but a real possibility. In the end, whites who live in the South, particularly white women, played a big part in Hillary Clinton's loss (pp. 199, 207).

And, as they note, the GOP's Southern strategy has long since enfolded not just white Southern women, but white women throughout the nation: 

The combination of bait the GOP used to catch southern whites was tailored to the region, but it is still bait to all who are hungry. So calls for states' rights, law and order, fiscal conservatism, colorblindness, anti-feminism, men's rights, and Christian nationalism can summon a Southern white majority, but other Americans are beckoned too.... That explains why, over time, at the national level, Republican candidates had no choice but to echo all three of those dog whistles in order to win. Those who did not or could not lost (p. 336)

Racism is a powerful drug, and a powerfully addictive one. And racism can easily be covered over and denied by vague appeals to "the economy" and "inflation" that are essentially, when stripped of their thin rhetorical veneer about the same old thing that has been at the base of Republican politics for a long time now: racism. 

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