Last week, John Russo provided an important look at voting patterns amongst Ohio’s working class and rightly concluded that “the older, predominately white, industrial working class continues to be a major influence on voting patterns but is increasingly being offset by a new working class composed of younger, more diverse, and better educated voters,” and that “Race may matter less than it did in the past, but the combination of race and class still matters.”
With John’s insights about the intersections of race and class in mind, we looked at some of the demographics behind that Other vote, much in the national news, that took place on election day-California’s Proposition 8, the measure that not only denies Gay and Lesbian residents the right to marry, but actually rescinds these same rights granted by an earlier court decision.
The measure was approved by 52 percent of voters and has sparked not only visible protests across the nation but animosity between the Gay community and the Black and Hispanic communities, which endorsed the ban. Exit polls indicated that 70 percent of black voters supported Proposition 8, while 53 percent of Latinos and 49 percent of whites and Asian Americans voted for the measure.
Of course, pinning the passage of the ban on any one group is both destructive and inaccurate. African Americans comprised only about 10 percent of the total vote in California. The reductive analyses of the vote as a black/white issue neglect the role of class and education in the passage of Proposition 8, a relationship that can be mapped by looking at the Los Angeles Times voter demographics feature.
A quick scroll over the map reveals the possible role that class and, quite possibly the current economic conditions, might have played in the vote. For example, a whopping 71.5 percent of voters in Colusa County voted in favor of Proposition 8. In that same county median income is reported as less than $45,000 and the region saw more than 20 foreclosures per 1,000 homes-the county’s population is more than 25 percent Hispanic.
County employment data reports that 24 percent of residents are employed in the agricultural sector and the county unemployment rate is forecast at 12.2 percent-almost 58 percent of the vote went to McCain. In Lake County, 58.3 percent voted for Obama and 52.6 percent voted yes on Proposition 8. County median income there is also less than $45,000, its population is more than 75 percent white, with less than 10 percent holding a bachelor’s degree.
Although these data may tell only part of the story, they do seem to suggest a relationship between economic conditions and voting patterns on social issues, and quite possibly a disturbing trend. David Brooks notes, for instance, that the worsening recession might deepen social rifts along the lines of race, class, and gender:
… recessions are about more than material deprivation. They’re also about fear and diminished expectations. The cultural consequences of recessions are rarely uplifting.
The economic slowdown of the 1880s and 1890s produced a surge of agrarianpopulism and nativism, with particular hostility directed toward Catholics, Jews and blacks. The Great Depression was not only a time of F.D.R.’s optimism and escapist movies, it was also a time of apocalyptic forebodings and collectivist movements that crushed individual rights.
For Brooks, the lessons of history suggest that the current and pending economic downturns might produce dissatisfaction and alienation that could translate into anti-progressive political actions and outcomes aimed at various groups. And while the recession will likely not produce the same ire aimed at the same targets as previous downturns, new groups, might become targets; such as Gays and Lesbians, and, judging from the sentiments on Capitol Hill and local media this week, unions.
So while mainstream and Gay and Lesbian media outlets focus attention on the racial dimension (arguably the more sensational story) of the passage of Proposition 8, the economic and class dimensions of the vote suggest a more complex stratification of interests, attitudes and beliefs.
Reporting about this stratification will be important for journalists in coming weeks and months. This type of reporting will allow audiences to understand complex issues in more than just polarizing ways. It’s not a simple black versus white story.
Tim Francisco & Alyssa Lenhoff