Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Wal-Mart Frontier

A very interesting article on the impact Palin has made in the race so far, esp. among the critical demographic of white women.  There's no doubt that she represents a major threat, but I still believe Americans will see that she is an utter sham and that the three scariest words in the English language are now "President Sarah Palin".

What we do know about Palin is that, at least for now, she has jolted the race in a way that makes her selection by McCain seem like something it was not: a carefully wrought, exquisitely calibrated maneuver. The effect of her arrival in the mix has been evident and advantageous to her boss in every national post-GOP convention poll. And it’s been particularly salutary in one area above all: McCain’s support from white female voters. According to last week’s ABC/Washington Post poll, McCain’s standing among them has improved by twenty points (from 50-42 behind to 53-41 ahead) since teaming with Palin. The numbers from the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal survey are less gaudy, to be sure, but still nothing to sneeze at: an eleven-point shift, from one point down to ten ahead.

Just how important is the XX-chromosome Caucasian demo? Incredibly, in a word. White women are quintessential swing voters, pragmatic, independent, with weak party allegiances and a tendency to break late. In 1996, with the help of those fabled “soccer moms,” Clinton carried the demo by five points and won the election by 8.5 in spite of losing the white-male vote by eleven. In 2004, George W. Bush’s appeal to “security moms” enabled him to carry white women by eleven, which made all the difference between losing the popular vote in 2000 and winning the next time around.

Among strategists and pollsters it’s the Wal-Mart moms—slightly older and more downscale than their predecessors, more culturally conservative and more attuned to economics—who look most like the pivotal swing-voting bloc in 2008. Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton’s erstwhile chief strategist and father of the soccer-mom coinage, goes so far as to write, “[White] women 30 and older, all the way up to age 85, will likely decide the election.”

That Palin has stirred enthusiasm, or at least curiosity, in this group comes as no surprise. But among the Washington wise guys and gals the conventional wisdom is that, over time, her impact will diminish. Back in 1984, as both the Democratic pollster Celinda Lake and the former Bush operative Matthew Dowd have pointed out, the placement of Geraldine Ferraro on the Democratic ticket occasioned a Palin-size bounce on behalf of Walter Mondale. And we all know how that turned out.

But Palin may turn out to be a more culturally resonant figure than Ferraro ever was. “The reason she appeals to women—and not just working-class women, but most women other than elite women—is that she represents something that they like to see in themselves: strength, authenticity, character,” says Democratic strategist Gigi Georges of the Glover Park Group. “She represents an attitude of ‘I don’t really care what anyone thinks. What the media thinks. What the elites think. I just don’t give a damn.’ And plays not just to small-town America but to all women who feel they’ve faced something in their lives, that they’ve been put down, not recognized for their intelligence, not recognized for their character. And there she is—she’s just like them.”

The Wal-Mart Frontier

“Wal-Mart moms” may be the key to this election. And a certain gun-toting governor in red shoes is selling them what they want. By John Heilemann

STRONG GIRLS VOTE MCCAIN-PALIN read the white block letters on the baby’s pink onesie, and her mother was chanting “Sarah! Sarah! Sarah!” on a gorgeous morning in Van Dyke Park in Fairfax, Virginia. They were two in a crowd of 15,000—a number, oh, 50 to 100 times greater than the norm for a John McCain event pre-Palin—who’d turned out for the final joint appearance of the Republican ticketmates before they temporarily went their separate ways last week. Up onstage, Sarah Palin was perched atop a pair of ruby-red heels, which seemed appropriate. Maureen Dowd may see the Alaska governor as Eliza Doolittle, but she strikes me more as Dorothy: the girl swept up in the tornado, lifted suddenly out of her black-and-white world, deposited in a Technicolor Oz.


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