From the Judge's Chambers: Election could be determined by 'Joe Six-Pack Lite'

Henry Olsen writing in The National Review highlighted a recent Pew poll analyzing American voters.

The Pew people sliced and diced these voters into eight categories, seeking--as pollsters invariably do--to understand us by dividing us.

One of the Pew categories, and the most interesting, was "disaffected" voters.

These voters were overwhelmingly white (77 percent), and overwhelmingly without a college degree (89 percent) and in many instances blue collar.

Two thirds of them classified themselves as political independents.

Getting down to political brass tacks, only 28 percent of them like President Obama. And most of them view the Republican party much more favorably than the Democratic party.

So, a year and a half before the presidential election, has the Republican party locked up the disaffected blue-collar white swing vote? Hardly.

Olsen points to the results in New York's 26th congressional district election where blue collar voters backed a phony tea party candidate and to Wisconsin where blue collar voters swung to Democratic, or Democratic-backed, candidates in the April supreme court elections, after having heavily backed Republican Scott Walker for governor in 2010.

Why? Look at the data that another researcher, Mitch Pearlstein, has compiled and Mona Charon has highlighted.

Pearlstein points out that currently some 40 percent of the births in America are to unwed parents. And the data also show an increasing divergence by educational status.

Among the well-educated, marriage rates are quite stable. But 54 percent of the children of high school dropouts are now illegitimate.

Critically, Pearlstein further notes that single parents are quite likely to turn to the government for some form of assistance.

Putting these two sets of data together, the disaffected white lower-middle class--overwhelmingly without a college education and much more likely to have, or to have come from, a broken family--does not share one of the core beliefs of the conservative movement: the belief in smaller, lower-cost government.

For reasons personal to themselves, these voters reverse Ronald Reagan's famous formulation. They do not view the government as the problem. They see government assistance as a necessary part of the solution to the uncertainty, turmoil, and conflict that mark their lives.

The recession has hit them hard. If they have a job, they regard it as being in peril. They oppose cuts to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.

And, Olsen says, they "fear the future as much or more than they welcome it."

These voters are Joe Six-Pack Lite. They support public order. But at the same time, they fear the effects of foreign competition much more than they worry about the spiraling cost of the government and the debt addiction it has spawned.

They are not natural conservatives, but President Obama has consistently underwhelmed them.

In sum, they are up for grabs and, although Pew has identified them, no presidential candidate has yet caught their attention.

President Obama, despite occasional spasms of rhetoric to the contrary, is no populist and we haven't seen an aspirant on the Republican side since Pat Buchanan who has consistently and openly appealed to these voters.

So, while the clock ticks toward a highly consequential election, it is likely that the disaffecteds will remain disaffected, the mindset that now grips them will expand, and the cultural and educational gaps that divide us will widen.

This is a far cry from Ronald Reagan's morning in America.

It is late afternoon for this segment of our population and the least the candidates of both parties can do is to show them a modicum of attention and respect.

But don't count on it; the disaffecteds will also probably remain invisible. At least until the next Andrew Jackson comes along.

William C. Whitbeck was appointed to the Michigan Court of Appeals in 1997 and reelected to six-year terms in 1998, 2004, and 2010.

His current judicial term expires January 1, 2017.

Published: Mon, Jul 25, 2011

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