There have been many articles written about why pollsters were wrong about who would win the presidential election. But a new Q&A from Vox taps a pollster who draws a straight line between racial panic that followed President Barack Obama’s first win and Donald Trump’s seeming victory.
Cornell Belcher, a pollster who worked on both of Obama’s presidential campaigns, was not at all surprised at the upset. He talked to Vox for an interview yesterday (December 12) that outlines how “America’s racial aversion crisis” after the 2008 election led to attempts to delegitimize Obama’s presidency and lift up a candidate who has no problem espousing racist ideas.
Here are three key takeaways from the interview:
On the myth of a post-racial America:
We started from a baseline going into the ’08 election and coming out of the campaign. I kept doing polling around racial aversion in battleground states throughout Obama’s presidency. I initially started thinking, as the narrative early on said, that we had hit a racial milestone, and there was a lot of talk about “post-racial America.” But we certainly didn’t see that in voting patterns going into the election. I thought we would see a softening of racial aversion during the Obama presidency. But I was wrong.
The narrative about how America has progressed a great deal and we’ve broken racial barriers turned out not to be true at all.
During the course of his presidency, not only did racial aversion not lessen but it increased greatly. In particular, it found a fertile and comfortable place to land on the Republican side, and it spiked tremendously. And going into the midterm election and particularly during the primary season, it created almost a perfect storm for a racial antagonist to reboot the “Southern strategy”—and for Donald Trump to really ride and expand that niche and take the Republican nomination.
On the coming transfer of power:
The truth of the matter is if in fact we are a democracy, minorities here in the next 20 years are going to be the dominant political voice in our country. So there is a transfer of power that’s going to happen, and the question is, is it going to be peaceful or is it going to be one that destroys us? And look at what’s happening in our country: the [reported hate attacks] in the news every day, and how, quite frankly, we’re beginning to defy our democratic values when in North Carolina you have—this is not my opinion, the court said it — the state legislature put in laws to in keep black people from voting. Specific laws! That’s not democratic. We’re even violating our own values.
And our Congress, which has historically been a magnificent body, which has found a way to push forward and act through natural disasters, war, corruption, has been able to move and be functioning—up until the point where they elected a Black man president. All of a sudden, that body is completely dysfunctional.
On why ignoring racism hurts the Democratic party when it comes to White voters:
The progressive establishment—which means too often White Northeastern liberals—[have] the idea that if we just had a better economic message, these people would all of a sudden go, “Oh, my god, what was I thinking, I should be voting Democrat!” That if we just find the right words to connect with downscale Whites, they’ll say, “Oh, you know what, I am voting against my economic interests.”
It’s a disconnect that’s frustrating to me. They’re not voting against their economic interests; they are voting for their higher interests—there’s an idea that your group positioning doesn’t matter economically. The idea that you can disconnect White people from their group position and make pocketbook arguments to them void of the history of their group is folly.
That is not to say don’t target or don’t go after them. That’s absolutely not what I’m saying. What I am saying is just that the answer isn’t simply a pocketbook argument—we do have to inoculate against the increased tribalism and racialism in order to have that conversation. As long as there is a group sense of decline, we do have to calculate for that in our conversation and try to inoculate that as opposed to simply coming up with another argument about why raising the minimum wage is beneficial to you….
Who are we to say that they’re voting against their economic interests? If in fact you think you’re losing your country, that’s your higher interest, and how in the hell am I gonna prosper if [I believe] other people are taking my country?
Read the full interview here.