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Post Election Analysis: Why White Voters Are Still Motivated by Racism

Did a majority of white people vote for Mitt Romney because of racism or because they truly thought he was the best candidate?

The answer is because of racism, according to a provocative essay on the liberal website by writer Deborah Foster. In her piece, which is a follow-up to another essay she wrote last week on “why nearly 60 percent of white voters selected the clearly inferior Romney over Obama,” Foster tackled the arguments posited by people who wrote comments in defense of white people.

She said the three main arguments offered as to why white voters voting for Romney weren’t necessarily motivated by racism were: 1) the economy was the reason white voters didn’t support Obama; 2) white Democrats have similarly performed poorly with white voters; and 3) if minorities can disproportionately vote for Obama, why can’t whites disproportionately vote for Romney without race being an issue?

In this essay, she responds to each one in turn. Foster says if the white voters were truly responding to the economy, we would have expected to see Obama get a higher percentage of the white vote in 2008, when Republican policies had just created the Great Recession. But that isn’t what happened. White Republican John McCain still got sizable majorities of white men at 57 percent and 53 percent of white women. Even though Romney was clearly proposing a return to the same policies that brought on the Great Recession, his percentage of the white vote actually increased substantially over McCain, to 62 percent of white men and 56 percent of white women.

“Unless you argue that white voters are ignorant, as some contended, in both the 2008 and 2012 elections, a rational voter would have recognized that either McCain or Romney proposed policies that specifically caused the most horrific downturn in the American economy since the Great Depression,” Foster wrote. “In fact, the last time Republican policies had created such circumstances, the country elected a Democrat four times while embracing progressive policies. There is room for a critique of Obama from the Left, in much the same way Roosevelt was too conservative in his first term, but that would hardly be a reason to turn around and vote more conservatively.”

As for the second point, Foster wrote that it is definitely true that white Democrats also have failed to garner a majority of the white vote, but she said this is because Democrats for the last 40 years have come to be seen as the party that supports black people.

“Older forms of racism, such as believing blacks are subhuman or inherently inferior to whites, have fallen substantially, leaving mainly skinheads behind. When people talk about improvements in racist attitudes, they often think of this form of racism,” Foster wrote. “However, another form of racism remains persistent: believing that black people violate American values, such as not working hard enough. On measures of this type of belief system, referred to as symbolic racism by academics, whites remain quite racist. As I mentioned last week, 51 percent of white Americans now openly profess these types of racist beliefs when polled, which nearly always reflect ‘symbolic racism’ in the modern era.”

Foster pointed to the many studies that have been conducted showing that white people will oppose policies that they think will benefit black people, but those same white people will support the policies if they are told the policies will benefit white people.

“When I argued that racism was still entrenched in this country based on how 59% of whites voted for Romney, I needed to elaborate that this wasn’t simply because Obama is black (though there was of course some of this),” Foster wrote. “It is because, to a majority of white people, he represents the current embodiment of a party and of policies that white people feel support black people.”

As for the final point, that whites are voting for the white candidate just like blacks are voting for the black candidate, Foster said that you must consider to what degree were voters motivated by racial animus. She wrote that minorities didn’t vote against Romney because of his race or because they were trying to stop white people from receiving government benefits.

“Furthermore, minorities can point to numerous Democratic policies that protect their civil rights such as preventing voter suppression, maintaining public services like education, and extending access to healthcare,” she wrote. “Conversely, when researchers specifically studied why whites were defecting from the Democratic party in the 1970s and 1980s, it wasn’t because of what the Republicans were going to do for them as much as what the party promised they would do to stop the government from helping those people. In essence, it is this very promise from Republicans that has also driven away minority voters from their party.”

But Foster ended her piece on a hopeful note:

“A little over half of the votes Obama received came from white voters (56%). We can celebrate the fact that so many white people see beyond race when voting, and there is no doubt Obama would have lost the election without white voters. We can even celebrate the fact the Democratic Party is diversifying; in the mid-1970s, 84% of people who voted Democratic were white, that fell to 73% in the mid-1990s, and now rests at 56%. But what we can’t pretend is that the United States doesn’t have a continuing problem with white racism.”

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