The Starbucks Set vs Archie Bunker's Gang

Business Times - 12 Mar 2008

The Starbucks Set vs Archie Bunker's Gang

Both Obama and Clinton have distinct support groups for the Democratic nomination


PUNDITS who have tried to explain Senator Hillary Clinton's success in resuscitating her flagging bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, after her primary victories last Tuesday over her rival Senator Barack Obama, have focused a lot of attention on Ms Clinton's effective campaign and media strategies as well as on the mistakes that Mr Obama and his aides have made.

Some political analysts suggest that Ms Clinton may have won over many voters in Ohio and Texas by repeatedly trying to question Mr Obama's 'experience' as a first-term senator and especially his 'readiness' to manage the major national security challenges the US faces in the Middle East and around the world.

Ms Clinton introduced the issue of national security into the campaign with a fear-inducing television commercial that asked voters in Ohio and Texas to choose which of the two candidates could best handle a crisis. The commercial attempted to illustrate the point with an image of a President Hillary Clinton, waking up in the White House at 3am and responding to an emergency call on the 'red phone'.

Mr Obama's campaign countered with a TV commercial that argued that Ms Clinton had already failed the 'red phone' test when she had voted in favour of authorising President George W Bush to go to war in Iraq.

But according to opinion polls, the majority of voters in Ohio and Texas agreed that Ms Clinton had more foreign policy experience and that those who considered national security to be their top priority decided to vote for her.

At the same time, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton seemed to be more successful than Mr Obama in accentuating her credentials as an economic populist who would be able to protect the interests of blue-collar workers in the manufacturing and service industries in Ohio, a state that is in the midst of an economic recession.

Like other Americans, many voters in Ohio blame the erosion in their manufacturing sector on international trade and the impact of globalisation, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta). Both Ms Clinton and Mr Obama promised to renegotiate the deal with Canada and Mexico, but Ms Clinton's campaign was able to question Mr Obama's commitment to renegotiate Nafta by taking advantage of news reports that an Obama economic adviser had assured the Canadian government that the candidate's opposition to the trade accord was nothing more than campaign rhetoric.

The end result was that the majority voters in Ohio who were concerned about their economic security ended up voting for Ms Clinton.

In fact, exit polls indicate that about two-thirds of blue-collar white voters (women and men) in Ohio, who make less than US$50,000 a year (including members of labour unions who are worried about the downturn in the American economy), decided to vote for Ms Clinton. She also won the support of most white voters above age 65.

Mr Obama, on the other hand, won the votes of the majority of African-American voters, white female and male voters under 30, and those making above US$100,000 and/or who have an advanced college degree.

In Texas, Ms Clinton seemed to have maintained an advantage among Hispanic voters while Mr Obama secured his support among black voters.

The voting in Ohio and other Democratic primaries points to an interesting demographic pattern: in addition to his strong electoral base among African-American voters, Mr Obama is doing well among two categories of white voters - upper-middle class/educated professionals, and young voters.

Ms Clinton seemed to have secured her electoral base among Hispanic voters - in states like California and Texas, where there is a large Hispanic population, Ms Clinton's Hispanic votes tend to cancel out Mr Obama's African-American votes. And more significantly, Ms Clinton also does especially well among two categories of white voters: blue-collar workers with only a high-school education, and older voters.

Hence, the more educated and the more well-to-do the white voters and the younger they are, the more they tend to vote for Mr Obama. And it's a mirror image when it comes to Ms Clinton's white voters, who tend to have less money, less education and to be older.

Pollsters and political analysts are dubbing the young, cool and hip members of Mr Obama's voting bloc as the Starbucks Set, while Ms Clinton's blue-collar and older voters are referred to as 'Archie Bunker Democrats', after the character in a popular American TV show from the 1970s, Archie Bunker - a white industrial worker from Queens, New York, whose negative attitudes towards blacks and other racial and religious minorities were shaped by bigotry that was then common among many white Americans.

Even in his worst nightmares, Archie Bunker could not have imagined the notion of a black man - or, for that matter, a white woman, a Jew or a gay - being elected president of the United States.

It seems that when it comes to the idea of electing an African-American to the top political office in the land, a large segment of white voters who remain at the bottom of the economic and educational ladder continue to share Archie Bunker's unfavourable attitudes towards blacks - although some of them seem to be ready to vote for a white women for that job.

The combination of large African-American turnout and the support of Starbucks voters has helped Mr Obama win Democratic primaries in states in the South and Maryland, while members of the Starbucks Set were critical to his success in primaries and caucuses in mostly white states like Wyoming and Connecticut.

At the same time, the Archie Bunker Democrats, augmented by older voters, seem to be making it possible for Ms Clinton to win victories in states like Massachusetts, New Jersey and Ohio, and are expected to help her achieve an advantage in next month's Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, whose demographic profile is very similar to that of Ohio. It too has a large concentration of blue-collar workers (in a state that is suffering an economic downturn) and senior citizens. In addition, the governor of Pennsylvania and other top political officials back Ms Clinton.

Unlike in the Republican presidential primaries, which follow a winner-take-all electoral system, the delegates in the Democratic primaries are divided proportionally. This has made it difficult for either Mr Obama or Ms Clinton to move rapidly towards gaining the 2,025 delegates needed to win the presidential nomination.

While Mr Obama is leading Ms Clinton now by about more than 100 delegates, she could narrow his lead if, as expected, she wins big in Pennsylvania and if the Democrats decide to reschedule the cancelled primaries in Florida and Michigan (two states in which Ms Clinton could do very well).

But since neither candidate is expected to win 2,025 delegates by the end of the race, the decision on who to choose as the next Democratic presidential nominee will probably be made by the so-called 'super-delegates'. These are top Democratic officials, including Congressional lawmakers, governors and mayors, who will have to make their choice based on which of the two candidates - Ms Clinton and her Archie Bunker Democrats and senior citizens or Mr Obama and his Starbucks Set and young voters - have a better chance of beating Republican presidential nominee John McCain in November.

Copyright © 2007 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.


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