Shocker -- Republican Pundits Now Prefer Clinton!

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THE PLANK APRIL 3, 2008

Shocker -- Republican Pundits Now Prefer Clinton!

Noam links to an interview with Karl Rove, and notes that "Rove is pretty down on Obama, and actually somewhat sympathetic to Hillary. Though he doesn't explicitly say why." Gee, could it be that Obama is going to be the Democratic nominee, and Clinton isn't? Can it be a coincidence that last year, when most people thought Clinton's nomination was inevitable, conservative pundits were filled with praise for Obama, and now that his victory is near-inevitable they're changing their tune?

Another good example of this phenomenon is Rove's fellow Fox News analyst Michael Barone, who authors a lengthy column purporting to show that Obama's supporters are "academics," and Clinton's are "Jacksonians." I wrote about what Barone's doing here a couple months ago. Basically, he's taking a cultural mythology conservatives developed during the Bush era--to propogate the idea that Democratic voters are a tiny enclave of decadent intellectuals while their supporters represent the true patriotic volk--and applying it to Clinton and Obama.

Is there any evidence that most, or even a singficant chunk, of Obama's supporters are academics? I doubt it, and Barone offers none. Indeed, the whole concept is mainly a conservative anti-intellectual slur. (Barone claims that Obama "appeals enormously to voters in the academia and public-employee enclaves of America, who want to deny honor to our warriors and arrogate it to themselves.")

Now, it's true that working class whites have generally supported Clinton over Obama, and they have been concentrated in and around Appalachia. Barone assures his readers that this is not because of racial prejudice--"Go back to 1995, and look at the polls that showed that most Americans would support Colin Powell for president," he writes. But we don't have to go back to 1995. We have survey analysis of the very race Barone is describing. A Pew survey last week found:

In particular, white Democrats who hold unfavorable views of Obama are much more likely than those who have favorable opinions of him to say that equal rights for minorities have been pushed too far; they also are more likely to disapprove of interracial dating, and are more concerned about the threat that immigrants may pose to American values. In addition, nearly a quarter of white Democrats (23%) who hold a negative view of Obama believe he is a Muslim.

I don't know if Barone was unaware of the finding, or chose to ignore it because it would complicate his attempts to glorify the virtuous Real Americans who reject Obama.

The Democrats-are-egghead-traitors genre of demographic analysis always contains massive analytic flaws. That's inevitable when you're trying to conflate a large (and often majority) segment of the electorate with a tiny, unrepresentative fringe. Barone's latest effort is especially shoddy. The two most loyal constituencies in the Democratic race are older white feminsists for Clinton, and African Americans for Obama. Are the former really best understood as Jacksonians, and the latter as academics? Of course not. This is just a way of defining Obama's supporters out of the mainstream of American life so as to discredit him. Alas, we're going to see a lot of this tripe through November, and--should Obama win--beyond.

--Jonathan Chait

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posted in: the plank, business, entertainment, labor, law, social issues, person career, clinton, michael barone

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