Plain Vanilla or Vanilla Bean?

Chris Faulkner, who I first met at an RNC field training school and has one of the most brilliant political minds I’ve ever encountered, has a very interesting post up about how caucasian voters, just like any other ethnic group, should not be taken as a single bloc:

This attitude that white voters are somehow a monolithic voting bloc is a relatively new phenomenon. I recently bought a GOP poll book for the 1898 election in IL on Ebay and it was incredible to see how some things change a lot and some not at all. It was a detailed list of all the voters in a various precinct used by the Party’s Precinct Chair for the purpose of voter turnout. It listed each voter with several points of data, interestingly the “Ethnicity” section was divided into Italian, German, Irish, Polish, White and other. Hilarious. The reality of course is that the longer these groups stayed in American the more they lost touch with their individual group identities. So do all these voters now fit into a great big bowl of vanilla?

White voters affiliation with their grand parents and great parents ethnic background may be watered down but how else can you explain these differences.

  • The Scandinavian and democrat leaning voters of Minnesota and Wisconsin.
  • The German and Republican leaning voters of Ohio and Indiana.
  • The Polish and democrat leaning voters of Chicago.
  • The Scots Irish and (newly) Republican leaning voters of the Old South.
  • The Irish and democrat leaning voters of Boston and New York.

As Chris mentions, with an increasing influx of ethnic groups from the world over, whites increasingly became consolidated to a single group in the mind of many demographers. However, as anyone who does alot of traveling will tell you, not all communities are alike, regardless of the majority race, and neither are the races that make up the community. This is perhaps best exemplified in the fact that, while most Latino voters lean Democratic, Cubans have generally been very pro-Republican. 

So why not focus on the differences in white communities? For example, while whites dominate both the Shenandoah Valley and Southwest Virginia, both have different political cultures.

  1. February 18, 2009 at 11:14 am

    If you really want to get nerdy about it, consider the timing of when Caucasian groups emigrated to the Americas. Germans who came over before and during the Napoleonic Wars tended to be Lutheran and more conservative. We have a lot of them in Shenandoah County.

    The next wave of German immigrants tended to come after the Napoleonic Wars as Prussia consolidated control of greater Germany, especially after 1848 when the revolutions were crushed. These Germans were more liberal and settled in the Northwest Territory states.

    If you read Team of Rivals and other books about Lincoln or the early Republican Party, you realize that these “liberal” Germans were a real backbone of the early Republican Party, especially in the Wisconsin/Minnesota/Illinois/Indiana area, and were deeply committed to the abolitionist cause.

    So it’s not just ethnicity, it’s also the timing of the emigration. Hooray for complexity!

    • February 18, 2009 at 1:27 pm

      Yes, Chris went on to discuss that in his post. Also, remember that “peace sects” have long had large numbers here in the Shenandoah Valley, specifically the Brethrens. It’s hard to swing a dead cat around here without hitting a Brethren Church. I’ve long posited that the influence of the “peace churches,” along with the independent nature of Germans and the unique reality of agriculture in the Shenandoah Valley, is why most of the counties in the Valley had relatively low numbers of slaves. Interestingly, though, the secession votes weren’t all that close except in Frederick County.

      I think there could also be something to be said for the fact that politics in the Valley (at least amongst natives) has a tendency to be a bit more subdued and conciliatory. But that’s a subject for someone’s thesis.

  2. February 18, 2009 at 8:30 pm

    “I think there could also be something to be said for the fact that politics in the Valley (at least amongst natives) has a tendency to be a bit more subdued and conciliatory.”


    Go south, or north. The Valley has had its share of nasty campaigns in recent years. Shenandoah County has been spared the inter-party squabbling due to, well, the pointlessness of the exercise, but some of the supervisor races this fall could get interesting.

    The “subdued” nature of a campaign is inversely proportional to how close it is and how much is at stake. Therefore I would say if you’re used to subdued campaigns I feel sorry for you, because that means they were never it doubt and fairly meaningless.

  3. February 18, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    I’ll grant you that the Valley has had its share of nasty campaigns in recent years.

    In recent years.

    Go back a little bit, though, and you’ll see long stretches of incumbents who were never challenged or mostly by kooks. Also, you seem to forget some of the former gentleman’s agreements that governed county politics–namely, the limitation of most of the Constitutional Officers to two terms and the unofficial agreement that the Democrats got the Treasurer and Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office and the GOP got Sheriff and Commowealth’s Attorney. You still see remnants of this today.

    This isn’t to say that intra-party contests haven’t been just as disputed–Allen Louderback owes his terms in the GA to the dance of the Bull Elephants that occured between the favored candidates of Holtzman and French. Ultimately all politics is personal, and as you point out it matters how much is at stake. For whatever reason, many people decided for a long while not to put anything on the line.

    But trust me–I’ve been in a few close ones. It’s certainly changing.

    Speaking of the Board, what are you hearing ’round these parts?

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