Douthat argues that “racial bias alone can’t explain why the president went from losing non-college-educated white voters by only 18 points in 2008 to being 40 points underwater with that same demographic today”:
The issue matrix matters as well, and over the last five years, this administration and this Democratic Party have consistently tried to mobilize new coalition elements in ways that have very predictably tended to alienate downscale whites.
And that strategy has worked! Energizing “ascendant” constituencies while pushing working-class whites toward the Republicans has represented a form of “positive polarization” for the Democrats, since it’s left them with a presidential-level majority that they did not enjoy before. But like any successful gambit, it’s also created vulnerabilities. The Democrats may not longer need that many working class white votes to win, but they probably can’t actually afford to lose them in a 70-30 split. And in the normal course of political events, it would be entirely reasonable for the opposition party to look at a president’s collapsing ratings with a demographic his party has mostly written off, and focus on that group as a target of opportunity in the next few election cycles.
Isaac Chotiner pushes back:
In one sense, of course, Douthat is right: Obama and the Democrats have turned off white voters with issues like gun control, and with a liberal record on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage. But these issues are not racial issues; it is not as if Obama and the Democrats are, say, trying to pass laws disenfranchising white voters, or prominent Democratic lawmakers are making offensive statements about what white Americans will or won’t contribute to the future of the country.
On the other side of the aisle, Republican racial polarization has taken the form of trying to pass voter ID laws that are clearly aimed at reducing minority turnout, and powerful Congressional Republicans are using a legitimate debate about immigration to make disgusting, racially-charged remarks.
Chait tackles another aspect of Douthat’s post.