Dick Armey flatly says that the "Bubba vote" will hurt Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama. Normally few would pay much attention to a prediction from the ousted, scandal ridden, and fiercely GOP partisan former congressman who heads up the conservative think tank, Freedom Works. But in this case he's right; with two significant corrections. The so-called Bubba voter is not solely the stereotypical gun rack, beer guzzling, white blue collar Joe. A significant percent are middle to upper income, college educated, and live in a suburban neighborhood. Fewer than one in five label themselves as liberal.
McCain would hardly be the first GOP presidential candidate to benefit from their potent vote. They have been the trump card for winning GOP winning presidents and even losing GOP presidential candidates for more than four decades. They gave Bush and Republican presidents Bush Sr., Reagan, and Nixon the decisive margin of victory over their Democrat opponents in their presidential races.
In a CNN 2004 presidential election voter profile, males made up slightly more than 40 percent of the American electorate, and of that percent white males comprised 36 percent, or one in three American voters. But even before the first votes were cast in 2004 the signs were that conservative leaning males would again play a decisive role in that year's presidential contest. In an ABC/Washington Post Poll in December 2003, Bush netted more than 60 percent of the white male vote in a head-to-head contest with any male Democrat presidential candidate (former Illinois Senator Carol Mosely Braun was a candidate briefly). Southern born and bred Bill Clinton's tilt-to-the right centrism couldn't shake the iron grip of Republicans on conservative males.
Bush Sr. in 1992 and Republican challenger Bob Dole in 1996 got fewer white male votes than Reagan and Nixon. But many of those votes didn't go to Clinton. Insurgent presidential candidate Ross Perot with his anti-government assaults in 1992 and 1996 grabbed many of them. Pat Buchanan also appealed to many white male voters with his freewheeling shoot from the lip hard right rants when he ran as an independent candidate in 2000. In 2000, exit polling showed that while white women backed Bush over Democratic Presidential contender Al Gore by 3 percentage points. White men backed Bush by 27 percentage points. Without the big backing of Southern white males for Bush in 2000, Gore would have easily won the White House, and the Florida vote debacle would have been a meaningless sideshow.
In the 2004 election the earlier polls that showed Bush getting sixty percent of the white male votes nationally were totally accurate. In the South, he garnered more than 70 percent of their vote. Four years later the margin was 26 points for Bush over Democratic presidential rival John Kerry among white males. Bush swept Kerry in every one of the Old Confederacy states and three out of four of the Border States. That insured another Bush White House.
The intense and unshakeable loyalty of working and middle class men to the GOP is not new. The gender gap was first identified and labeled in the 1980 contest between Reagan and Carter. That year Reagan had more than a 20 percent bulge in the margin of male votes he got over Carter. By comparison, women voters split almost evenly down the middle in backing both Reagan and Carter. Men didn't waver from their support of Reagan during his years in office. In fact, many of them made no secret about why they liked him. His reputed toughness, firmness and refusal to compromise on issues of war and peace fit neatly into the often times stereotypical male qualities of professed courage, determination, and toughness.
Though the penchant for males to back Republican presidents gave Bush the electoral edge in the race against Gore in 2000, Gore won the popular vote as well as the electoral votes in more than a dozen states and women voters provided the margin for victory in those states for him. The GOP's grip on male voters, however, could have even spelled doom for Bill Clinton in his reelection bid in 1996.
If women had not turned out in large numbers and voted heavily for Clinton, GOP presidential contender Robert Dole may well have beat him out. While men rate defense, a strong military, the war on terrorism, and national security as high on their list of concerns, women say abortion rights, education, social security, health care, equal pay and job advancement, and equal rights are highest on their list of concerns.
While racial, gender, and economic tensions and fears were driving forces behind white male devotion to the GOP; they're hardly the only reason for their political love affair with the party. Republicans have also played hard on the anger, frustration, and hatred that many males harbor toward government and their swoon over military toughness.
In saying the Bubba vote will slam Obama, Armey just acknowledged a political fact. That vote is the same trump card that's been on the table for past GOP presidential candidates. It's still very much on the table for McCain on Election Day. It's a formidable hand for Obama to beat.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).