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Conservatives vs. Conservation: How the GOP Drives Off White Voters
Environmental historian William Cronon writes that [Newt Gingrich's Contract with America] "came to grief in good measure because most Americans continue to believe that protecting the environment is a good thing." Newt now thinks so, too, and has admitted that Republicans are "malpositioned" on the environment. … Wirthlin Worldwide, a polling firm associated with Republican causes, reports that "2 out of 3 Americans say we need to protect the environment no matter what it costs." In 1999, Zogby International, another pollster heavily used by the GOP, surveyed probable Republican primary voters in five key states and found about as much support for "protect environment" (92.8%) as for "encourage family values" (93.4%). … [I]f I were running the party, I don't think I would tie myself closely to the losing side of a broad national argument.
estimable John Leo
U.S. News & World Report, 4/9/2001
Few things I've written in VDARE.com have proven more controversial than my article pointing out that if Bush had won 57% of the white vote, instead of only 54%, he would have had a landslide in the Electoral College - and that therefore the GOP should look for issues to shore up its demographic base.
Among other critics: Free Republic proprietor Jim Robinson, who pulled it from his chat site on the curious grounds that doing arithmetic was "promoting racism." I criticized this silly decision, apparently irritating Robinson to the point where he has now banned VDARE altogether. Boo hoo.
Some critics objected because they believed me to be saying that white people's votes are worth more than nonwhites' votes. Others, who had read my essay more closely, were incensed for the opposite reason: because I had clearly presumed that everybody's vote is of equal worth. These multi-culturally sensitive folks felt that, while this might technically be true, everybody who is anybody knows that some votes (i.e. nonwhites') are more morally equal than others (i.e. whites').
In reality, I was simply noting that Republicans are much more likely to find the votes that they need to win by increasing their white share marginally than by trying to increase their minority share enormously. Note, for example, that Bush's paltry popular vote total would have benefited more by his winning merely three percentage points more white votes than by tripling his share of black votes. After all, whites cast 81% of all votes in 2000 and more than 90% of Bush's votes.
Still other critics chided me for speaking frankly about "white voters" in the blunt manner that campaign managers use with their candidates, rather than in those arcane euphemisms they use with the press ("middle Americans," "the suburban vote," "soccer moms"). These delicate souls felt that political journalism ought to avoid frank discussions of race. Instead, it should stick to talking about proxies for race, like income and education level.
But the plain fact is that you can't think intelligently about American voters without thinking about race. Class, while useful, is hardly a substitute for descent.
For example, Jewish-Americans and Japanese-Americans tend to be highly affluent and educated. But for decades they have voted for Democrats as solid ethnic blocs. Similarly, middle class blacks are slightly more likely to vote Republican than underclass blacks - but hardly enough to matter to any political strategist.
Why is race so important in politics? Because the only usable definition of a racial group is: "an extremely extended family that inbreeds to some degree." In other words, race starts at home, in the family. And cultural attitudes and their accompanying political preferences start at home, too. Since people generally vote like their relatives, racial groups - which are networks of relatives - tend to vote together as well. That's why the cultural predilections that are inculcated in children tend to follow racial lines among adults.
For example, whether or not you grow up to have an active love of the outdoors generally depends upon whether your parents dragged you out hiking and camping when you were a kid. In the U.S. today, class has less to do with this than race.
I first noticed this twenty years ago in California. A Swiss-American who had been hiking since toddlerhood, I tried to drag a Taiwanese-American girlfriend to beautiful Malibu Creek for a three-mile walk. We came from nearly identical economic classes. Both our fathers were aerospace engineers, although while I grew up on the flatlands of the San Fernando Valley, her house on the Palos Verdes peninsula enjoyed a spectacular view of Catalina Island. Yet she was profoundly disturbed that I wanted her to try an activity where she couldn't wear high heels.
A little later, I had a conversation with a San Francisco cousin. He was making a bundle buying Victorian houses from little old ladies and selling them to Hong Kong families who always paid with suitcases full of cash. He mentioned that the one thing his buyers always insisted as a precondition of purchase was to take the home's lovely backyard garden and pave it over with asphalt.
And East Asians are far more likely at least to pretend to care about conservation than are blacks and Hispanics.
Now, I can't imagine that there is anything genetic about these racial differences in attitude toward nature. I'm sure they depend simply upon your upbringing. Nor will I argue over which kind of upbringing is objectively better. All I want to do is to point out three things:
1] On average white people in America currently care far more deeply about protecting the environment than nonwhites (with the exception of American Indians). For example, the Sierra Club is 93% white, even though its home state of California is less than half white. Only 1% of visitors to Yellowstone National Park are Hispanic. You can test this for yourself. The next time you go for a hike, just the look at who you pass on the trail.
2] The GOP is alienating white voters by positioning itself on the unpopular side of conservation issues that matter emotionally to its core vote. (See the John Leo quote above.)
3] There is no evidence that Republican anti-environmentalism picks up nonwhite votes to compensate for the votes it loses among whites. As far as anybody can tell, minorities tend to be apathetic toward environmentalism - not hostile. To the extent that we do succeed in assimilating immigrants into the dominant white culture, they will eventually also become environmental enthusiasts.
Thus conservation ought to be a major issue for conservatives. It's a fine way to shore up the demographic base of the Republican Party without alienating minorities.
Instead, the Bush Administration appears to be trying to drive away its natural constituency. No doubt, there are strong scientific arguments in favor of each unpopular step it has taken. But George W. Bush lacks the outstanding communication skills necessary to turn these technical arguments into something that could connect emotionally with voters.
Now, conservatives of The Wall Street Journal Editorial Page stripe offer numerous justifications for their politically-damaging stands. They argue that environmentalism is an obsession of affluent, college-educated whites. There's something elitist, even racist, they imply, about catering to well-to-do, well-educated white people when the issue is of no interest to, say, immigrant factory workers.
Okay. But keep in mind that the people who vote are a lot more white, well-to-do, and well-educated than the general population.
Further, the white electorate is becoming ever more wealthy and well-educated. And this trend won't stop. In exit polls, 74% of voters of all races claimed to have attended college for at least awhile. A surprising 18% said they had a graduate degree - and only 44% of those people voted for Bush. A full 15% of voters said they made over $100,000 per year - and Bush took only 54% of their votes. In other words, Bush only broke even among what ought to be his rock solid base: the upper-middle class.
This does not mean that the GOP should simply adopt a policy of me-too-ism toward every knuckleheaded environmental scheme the Democrats dream up. There's a repulsive element of misanthropy in much of mainstream environmentalism that the GOP can profitably confront.
In a future column, I'll outline a novel pro-family conservation philosophy that could revitalize the Republican Party's appeal to white voters.
April 16, 2001