The volatile nature of voting behaviour in the US and the nature of how and what issues are salient at the time of election leads to many factors influencing US voting behaviour. Short-term factors, such as leadership, issues and candidate appeals and campaigns, can be as significant as longer-term factors such as social class, age, gender, ethnicity and geography. However, by the very nature that these factors are ‘long-term’ is a tribute to their constant importance within the American political scene.
The ideologies found at the root of the parties tend to lend themselves to certain, typical voter stereotypes: The broadly liberal Democrat Party tend to cater to minorities based on laxer immigration policies and greater provision for the poor and needy. Watts notes that the Democrats repeatedly receive “overwhelming support from black voters, it could for this reason that black candidates such as Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama have received such a high profile within the party and within the minds of the electorate.
In 2008, 95% of the African American electorate voted for Obama, with 88% voting for fellow Democrat Kerry in the 2004 election, proving that it is the Democrat Party and their policies which convince ethnic voters to support them and not the solely the candidate. The policies of the Democratic Party have been visibly shaped because of the overwhelming support that they receive from the ethnic vote; civil rights and racial justice through the appointment of black judges and affirmative action within policies.
On the other hand, the Republican Party typically accommodates those who ‘help themselves’, with policies that reflect a narrower, yet numerically large portion of the electorate. In the 1976 presidential election, 47% of white males voted Democrat; however, in 2004 this was only 37%. Despite the Democrats being seen as the party of the poor, Ashbee notes that “in 2004, many white men in the lowest income groupings voted to re-elect President Bush. ” This suggests that race is more of an important factor when deciding what party to vote for, than income.
Read an essay on Hispanic gender roles
Ashbee identifies multiple reasons for why this could be; he recognises that those with fewer or no educational qualifications “have the most conservative attitudes”. He also states that “Reaganism had a particular appeal to white men”, possibly in the way that Regan spoke in a masculine language about confronting America’s enemies and tackling crime. Policy of the Republicans is a factor which is beginning to draw in higher-income minorities; their fiscal policies and lax taxation is a universal draw for those on high incomes, regardless of ethnicity.
This presents two different segments of voters within the Republican Party on the basis of the race, note that both are affected and determined by income. Race, as a factor in voting behaviour, is one that is increasing in importance for the two main parties, especially the Republicans. The Republican party have typically have not needed to tap in to the voter base of ethnic minorities in order to win office at the highest level, in fact, quite the opposite; their staple voter is a white, Anglo-Saxon protestant. In the 2008 presidential election, 55% of whites of both genders voted for McCain, the Republican nominee.
In 2004 this figure was even higher, at 58%. As polarisation of the parties increases, Younge suggests that an “already significant gap between ethnicities will increase. ” However, there are some commentators that say that as the ethnic population of America grows, the Republicans will have to adapt their policies to the needs of the growing ‘minorities’. For instance, Watts identifies that “one of the fastest-growing groups in the United States is the Hispanic population. ” David compounds on this by saying that “Latinos, all political pundits agree, are the sleeping dragon of US politics. At the 2012 Republican National Convention, around a third of the speakers were black and Hispanic. This is a small example of the Republican Party beginning to court the minority vote. A 2012 Wall Street Journal poll had 0% of African-Americans saying they intend to vote for Romney. At 32%, support among Latinos is higher but still remains pathetically low given what Republicans have had in the past – in 2004 George W Bush won 44%. As a result, the party of Lincoln is increasingly dependent on just one section of the electorate – white people.
Simply; the more black and Latino voters the Republicans alienate, the more white voters they need to replace them. Despite their universally agreed importance, 2012 Republican presidential nominee Willard Mitt Romney has been criticised by Florida Republicans for writing off African American voters, Art Wood chairman of the Republican party in Hillsborough County argues that “”Romney did a really poor job with minorities. ” Regardless, the fact that the factor of race can have the effect of altering the mentality of one of the main parties in the US is surely a testament to its significance.
Religion is a factor, whilst large in its own right, is joined with ethnicity heavily. A 2012 Wall Street Journal Poll which polled Romney’s support at 0% for African Americans while Latino support was at 32%. This difference comes down predominantly to religion and the social policies that are offered by the Republican Party, through heavy influence of the social conservative faction within the party, particularly. These policies include pro-life, pro-family values which are thusly, anti-gay marriage and anti-drug, among more.
Because of these policies, the Protestant vote is almost solely captured by the Republicans thanks to the heavy grass-roots campaigning through the Christian Coalition, who canvas support and provide a function in getting members of the church out and voting for the candidate that supports their values. The importance of religion within voting is huge because of this pro-active nature that religious activist have; the turnout for religious groups is higher than non-religious. Some commentators have stated that it was through the support of the Christian Coalition is what helped George W.
Bush secure election in 2000. Although it seems that the Christian vote is firmly Republican, the same cannot be said for Catholicism and Judaism. In the 2008 presidential election, 78% of Jews voted for Barack Obama. Polls indicate during this election, 83% of white Jews voted for Obama compared to just 34% of white Protestants and 47% of white Catholics, though 67% of those identifying with another religion and 71% identifying with no religion also voted Obama. The importance of the Jewish vote can be seen in the swing state of Florida, where it remains heavily Democrat.
The Catholic vote is more fragmented, with many Catholics torn between the family values of Republican social policy and the fiscal, welfare policies of the Democrats. With Watts pointing out that there are “more female voters than male ones” presents the factor of gender to have hugely significant impact, simply due to the size of the natural dichotomy ‘male’ and ‘female’ presents. In reality, however, the difference is not massive, but is still evident. Generally, more women than men are likely to support the Democratic Party, whereas it is reversed for the Republican Party.
Grant supports this by stating “female voters are much more willing to support Democratic candidates. ” This can be seen in Reagan’s lead over Democrat Mondale in 1984 was 25% among men, but only 12% among women. In recent elections, a gender gap can be seen in voting statistics. In 2004, President George W. Bush ability to increase his share of the women’s vote to 48%, up from 43% in 2000, was a major reason why he substantially increased his share of the popular vote, an example of the power that the women’s vote can have on an election.
According to Watts; “the gender gap averaged 7. 7% between 1980 and 2000. ” In 2008, the female vote swung heavily Democratic; with 56% of females voting for Obama. Commentators suggest that women have leaned to the left in the last few years because they associated Reagan, Bush and Speaker Newt Gingrich with serious cuts in welfare and expenditure, as well as a more hawkish attitude on foreign policy, political attitude more associated with males.
With such a consistent gap between the two parties, any additional votes from either side of the gap would be incredibly useful for the party, as seen with Bush in 2004, and as such, an influential voting factor. Ultimately, long-term factors such as race, religion and gender are always going to have high levels of significance. However, to distinguish the importance of one over another is difficult, for all three factors as well as income and social status are highly influential to voters, and as such, voters will exhibit characteristics of all three areas.