Whites are mostly negative about Obama, as consistently only around 30% approve of him (despite the Nobel Peace Prize). This 30% figure is far from the whole story. Wide differences in outlook on Obama within the White population are worth considering.
Modern polling allows us to open up a window onto, and look closely at, these differences. There are some surprises.
Using data collected by Reuters’ scientific polling in 2014 and 2015 (for a sample group of over 50,000 Whites), I present an in-depth analysis of White attitudes towards Obama:
1. Whites’ Views on Obama by Age Group, Sex, and Political Involvement
2. Whites’ Views on Obama by Religious Identification (and Race)
3. Whites’ Views on Obama by Sexual Orientation
4. Whites’ Views on Obama by Income [This Post]
5. Whites’ Views on Obama by Marital Status and Children
6. Whites’ Views on Obama by Education Attained
In this post:
Summary of Key Points
Richer Whites support Obama a little more. Overall, not much difference by income.
Analysis / Commentary
“No Story on Income” is Itself a Story
Glancing at this data, we might think that there is not much here, no big changes between cohorts. Unlike on so many other parameters, Whites’ political views on Barack Obama (and perhaps in general) in the 2010s are not strongly differentiated by income. Compare the income data here to the lopsided differences according to religious identification.
Basic political analysis would have it that the poorer sections of society will support more economically left-wing politics (and thus Obama) out of their own direct self-interest. This is not the case here. Many of the White income groupings here have Obama Approval ratings with overlapping margins of error (each subcategory under $75,000 has a margin of error around 1%). In other words, we cannot be sure there is any difference of opinion at all between most White income brackets.
Rich Whites Like Obama
To the extent there is a difference by income, richer Whites (counter-intuitively) support Obama several points more. Comfortably outside the range of the margins of error for other groupings, we find Whites from households with over $100,000 in income (13% of respondents, which reflects their share of the White population) supporting Obama several points above the White average.
Caveat: This may be partly or wholly an artifact of White conservative areas tending to be lower cost-of-living and lower income. In other words, what we are seeing may a reflection of regional differences, not “true” income differences. Analyzing approval ratings for Obama by White income level one region or state at a time could shed more light on this.
The White Working Class
There is no real difference between the poorest of Whites (under $25,000 in household income) and the vast White middle classes in opinion on Obama. However, “all else equal” we would expect poorer people to support a figure seen as economically left-wing like Obama at a much higher rate than the rich do, which implies the existence of some mechanism negatively influencing poor Whites’ opinions on Obama. What is it?
Explaining Obama’s Lack of White Working Class Support
Certainly Obama is racially polarizing. Since he came into the national spotlight in 2008, Obama has chimed in several times each year on various current affairs involving race. He goes so far as to take the side of Black racial radicals over the side of his own law enforcement agencies, for instance. Obama has also consistently pushed the White Privilege conspiracy theory.
These kinds of things will deeply trouble many Whites. They will tend to feel targeted as a bloc by the state apparatus (up to the level of the president himself!) and its media, targeted as “political enemies of the state”, like the kulak class in the Stalinist USSR.
Now, those Whites who live and interact with Nonwhites most often will feel the pinch of anti-White feeling when it is stirred up. It is not an abstraction for them. They know they will be subject to both defacto and legalized discrimination. They know they will be treated with resentment, belligerence (again, encouraged from the top in the form of Obama himself) in their own country, their own places of birth. The Whites who are most faced with this reality tend to be poorer. This would depress approval ratings among poor Whites more than for rich Whites.
Social Class as Disconnected from Income
Dr. Charles Murray’s study of social class dynamics among Whites in the USA, Coming Apart (see a review here and by F. Roger Devlin here), stated: “The new-upper-class culture [in White America] is not…driven by affluence” but by a certain set of complicated views and mores that I won’t go into here. This is also a conclusion that can be drawn from this data, I think. If there is no appreciable difference in political views between income groupings, it suggests that “social class” may have other bases today. One manifestation of which was explored in the satirical series Stuff White People Like from several years ago. (“White People” there really means Whites of a certain kind of social status, or “class” perhaps, but one not directly related to income; in the late 2000s, some commentators called this group “SWPLs”; by the mid-2010s, the term “hipster” is much more common.)
[End of Analysis / Commentary]
This is the combined data for all Reuters polls, conducted in the six months up to January 20th, 2015, which yields a huge sample size of 50,540 White Americans. (In this post, an additional analysis between the dates January 20th 2013 and January20th, 2015 was done to get a bigger sample size for gays and lesbians.) Reuters polled all races, but its online database allows us to look at only data for Whites if we so wish. This large sample group yields a small margin of error for most demographic subsets. Two other benefits of this data are: (1) Lots of demographic breakdowns are available, and (2) a continuum of possible responses is provided rather than a clumsy “approve / disapprove” binary. The choices are: “Strongly Disapprove” — “Somewhat Disapprove” — “Lean Disapprove” — “Mixed Feelings” — “Lean Approve” — “Somewhat Approve” — “Strongly Approve”. This allows for more precise results. All this can be recreated at polling.reuters.com.
The three calculations on the right side of each chart are to help make sense of the data:
- “Core Approval” is the sum of a demographic’s “Somewhat Approve”, “Strongly Approve” percentages. So if Group A has a “Somewhat Approve” share of 15% and a “Strongly Approve” share of 10%, the “Core Approval” will be 25%.
- “Widest Approval” is Core Approval with “Lean Approve” and half of “Mixed Feelings” also added. Taking half probably as good a way as any to deal with the people with mixed feelings.
- Weighted Approval. This is a weighting of each demographic’s scores according to the scores on the charts. To account for intensity of feeling, “Strongly Disapprove” is weighted at -0.5 and “Strongly Approve” is weighted at 10.5.
Other demographic breakdowns by:
- Age Group, Sex, and Political Involvement
- Religious Identification and Race
- Sexual Orientation
- Income [This Post]
- Marital Status and Children
- Education Attained