Let’s face it—elections boil down to soundbyte branding. In this election, Obama is the cool black guy who wants to help the middle, and Romney is the superrich stuffy white guy who wants to help the rich. Whom you vote for in this election can pretty accurately be distilled into which of those narratives you want to support.
Which led me to believe (and I think I’m not alone here) that lower and middle income white voters from the South would go overwhelmingly for Romney. Not just because he’s white (although the racism still running rampant in white America certainly helps), but for the same reason this bracket has gone Republican for decades: the GOP has aligned itself as the party of the rich, and everyone idolizes the rich. This is the bet baked into the American dream—that anyone, regardless of where he or she starts out, can make it to the top. So to scrutinize the rich is to scrutinize your own future glory in which you live out the American dream.
But it turns out I was wrong. Kind of.
A new poll from Reuters shows lower and middle income Southern whites are highly skeptical of Mitt’s cash. According to data complied from thousands of households across 11 states, “38 percent of these voters said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who is ‘very wealthy’ than one who isn’t. This is well above the 20 percent who said they would be less likely to vote for an African-American.”
Anecdotally, many of the voters cited skepticism for Romney rooted both his wealth and his Mormonism, which taken together bestow a kind of unrelatable “otherness” on Romney. “In Lynchburg, many haven’t forgotten Romney’s casual offer to bet Texas Governor Rick Perry $10,000 or his mention of his wife’s couple of Cadillacs,” writes Reuters.
Granted, when asked point blank whether they support Romney or Obama, Southern whites go for Romney 46 percent to 29 percent. But this showing isn’t nearly as strong as it’s been for Republicans in previous elections, and Reuters notes Romney would need to win over 60% of white voters just to stay competitive, given Obama’s overwhelming support among black and latino voters.
It all comes down to likability. Another new poll from ABC found that 52% of America would like to have Obama over for dinner as opposed to 33% for Romney. In 2008 Obama remarked that Hillary Clinton was “likable enough.” In all probability, Mitt needs to find a way to make himself more likable to white Southern voters in a hurry, or he could be in trouble.