A Racially Polarized Country: White Men Lose One

This is a very interesting time to live in this country, indeed. We just re-elected the first African American president, Barack Obama, yet he is a man who has for the most part carefully avoided talking about issues of US racism in order to win twice. He often provides the country with the colorblind rhetoric from the soft version of the white racial frame, even as he strengthens and expands, often quietly, much of the civil rights protection and enforcement neglected by his conservative predecessors.

I have been looking in some detail at the exit polls for the second edition of the Yes We Can? book that Adia Harvey Wingfield and I are trying to get out soon, and they are very interesting.

In the 2012 election Senator Obama won an estimated 50.8 percent of the total popular vote (when all is finally counted), compared to 52.9 percent in 2008. This resulted in a likely 332-206 electoral vote victory (including Florida, which is still counting), lower than the 365–173 figure for 2008. According to the exit polls whites made up 72 percent of total voters in this election, down a bit from 2008. Whites gave Obama a lower percentage of their votes (39 percent) than they did John McCain in 2008 (43 percent). Romney got a majority of the white vote nationally and also in all but one (New York, barely an exception at 49 percent) of the 18 major states in which exit polls were also conducted. About 89 percent of those who voted for him were white.

A close look at exit polls indicates that Obama lost all the white age and gender groups. Media discussion of his winning the youth and female vote are quite misleading, because it was the youth and women of color who provided the majorities for him, not whites. Indeed, Obama only got 44 percent of whites under 30 and 42 percent of white women. Obama lost these white age and gender groups by substantial percentages, most dramatically getting only 35 percent of white men.

It was, again as in 2008, voters of color who provided the margin of victory for Obama, and their percentage of the electorate increased from about to about 26 percent in 2008 to 28 percent in 2012. Black voters gave him 93 percent of their votes; Latinos, 71 percent; Asian Americans, 73 percent; and others of color about 58 percent. The percentages for Latinos and Asian increased significantly from their 2008 percentages of 67 and 62 percent respectively, while the huge black percentage was down just a little from 95 percent in 2008.

So the overwhelming majority of white men and a substantial majority of white women went for the Republican Party, and lost this one rather significantly, at least in the (undemocratic) institution we call the electoral college.

I have not seen a tabulation of the new congressional figures for next year’s new Congress, but in spite of some moaning by white male commentators on the right about the “loss of the country,” white men still control Congress overwhelmingly. The current 112th Congress, like all previous congresses, is disproportionately and overwhelmingly white male. In this 2011-2013 Congress, the Senate is 96 percent white in composition, with just two Latino, two Asian American (both from Hawaii), and no black senators. Some 81 percent are white men. The House is 83 percent white in composition, with 72 percent of members being white men. In addition, the very top political leadership of the U.S. Congress and the White House has for centuries been white male–with only two rather recent exceptions (Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi, both in the 2000s) since the country’s founding. Also, in the economy, whites, and mainly white men, have dominated the major institutions to the present day. About 95 percent of CEOs of Fortune 500 firms are still white men. And among Forbes magazine’s 400 wealthiest Americans, those worth at least a billion dollars, 86 percent are white men. A modest loss of some political power seems to mean a “loss of the country” for many of these folks.


  1. Bondear

    So 72% of people who voted are white. However according to the latest census whites make up only 63% of Americans. So I took the race percentages from the Census and and used the voting percentages by race to predict how much of the popular vote would go to Obama and Romney. What I found is that Obama would have gotten 53.2% of the popular vote, with Romney getting only 44.9% – an 8-point gap! If the Census is a reliable guide to the racial make-up of those over 18, then we still have a ways to go when it comes to getting people of color to the polls.

  2. Maria Chavez


    Thanks for another excellent analysis of the election. A modest loss of political power is too much for many folks who know they have been given an unfair advantage for centuries. Imagine if we actually had descriptive representation that matched our demographics? I believe the only way we will sustain a healthy civic society, maintain strong governing institutions, and cultivate public faith in our governmental institutions and in our established professions is if these institutions become more representative of the population. To hear the media today one would think they just discovered Latinos vote! So long as the people we see making, implementing, and enforcing our laws are overwhelmingly of one demographic type and the people we see picking our produce, collecting our garbage, tending to our aged, working in nail salons, and filling our jails and prisons are predominately people of color, whites will continue to enjoy an unfair advantage that they must understand isn’t right.

    • Joe Author

      Good point, Bondear. Many voters of color faced barriers to voting this time, intentional ones. Some left voting places with facing hours to vote. Others got billboards threatening imprisonment for having the wrong materials, etc. And then of course many are low income and have to work on Tuesdays and other work days, or lose essential income.We are about the only major country with elections that forces many people to vote on work days. Why not allow voting on four consecutive Saturdays and Sundays in November, for example.

      Maria, those too are very good points. The whitewashed mainstream (non-Latino) media did just discover not only the Latino vote, but indeed Latinos and their issues. Even so most of the talking heads on TV networks are still white, and mostly white men, trying this morning to figure out why Republicans lost. They are talking about ‘demographics’ some, but without much insight into what that means.

  3. Shenonymous

    New here. Who is Joe? I’m looking for references for the claim of how many racists make up the Republican Party membership. Seems like they all are but I’ve no statistical proof.

  4. Shenonymous

    Guess after thinking about it, I want to know if there is any statistics about if racists predominantly vote Republican. I guess it might not be a possible poll to take.

  5. Maria Chavez

    Dear Shenonymous,

    There are many examples of polls done to check policy positions, racism, and party affiliation. You’re correct that surveys don’t ask directly so pollsters must look for other ways to measure for racism. For example, Professor Matt Barreto at the University of Washington looked at a primary election for a position on the state supreme court here in Washington. It was quite telling. The challenger had no money, no name recognition, and virtually no campaign to speak of yet he was winning in Eastern WA by Republicans. The incumbent was a highly accomplished Latino with a Spanish last name. He was losing in E.WA. You can find the data and argument at: http://goo.gl/HdNHn. Again, there are so many other examples of polls done to check policy positions, racism, and party affiliation.

    • Mark Williams

      Yes, I think they can!

      It’s not about being white or black. It is about culture. Culture is defined as “the way we get hings done; the way we live”.

      The “privilege” you refer to is really only the differences in outcomes that differences in cultures produce. Those differences in outcome occur regardless of the race of the individuals involved, and regardless of the country in which they live.

      My successful friends came from homes with two married parents, both of whom had high school diplomas or better, neither of whom had ever been to jail, neither of whom abused drugs or alcohol, both of whom valued education and made sure the kids knew it, both of whom were interested i the education the kids were getting, at least one of whom had a steady job, both of whom worked hard to keep the kids out of trouble, and both of whom held the kids to high standards of conduct and learning. These are the sort of cultural difference I am talking about.

      If there is a “privilege” in this story, it is the privilege that comes from good family and community values coupled with persistent hard work. It is not about race.

      • cordoba blue

        Just so you know not everyone who writes here ignores culture, I have a tendency to agree with you. There are many practices within the black community that hamper success.
        It has become the norm now, not the exception, for black men to leave girlfriends they have children with. It is not even frowned on (except by the poor black woman who must raise this child alone and her own immediate family).
        This dynamic ALONE sets the course for alot of misery in the black community. Black male teenagers end up without positive male role models and this in turn leads them to join gangs or use otherwise unreliable sources of conduct as a model. It’s very difficult for a woman, especially, to raise sons.
        I know several single white mothers who are having a terrible time with their white teenage sons. For some reason boys have a tendency to really need a man during certain stages of their life to “lay down the rules” so to speak, because both white and black males tend to dismiss their mothers after a certain age. It’s almost a macho thing like, “I’m a man now. You can’t tell me what to do.” I’ve seen this again and again in white families even when my own children were teenagers.
        My own son started becoming rude to me on certain occasions when he was 13. He also started shop lifting. However, when my husband confronted him, he was quiet and humble as a mouse. Very common.I have no idea how I would have handled the situation without my husband, because it was growing gradually worse. Now my son is in his mid-twenties and very responsible and hard working. He is engaged to a wonderful girl. I did not do that! My husband did, because he was there at that crucial juncture.
        I think the black community very much cares about educating their children, but with so many hard working single mothers, it’s hard to enforce rules about finishing homework, school projects, even going to parent-teacher meetings. If the black community could just confront the issue of standards regarding black men marrying their girlfriends it would aid this community a great deal.
        This is not about dismissing racism, but about strengthening what black people already have at their command if they desire it: a potential strong family unit.

      • African Americans break 9:1 for Dems all the time. Check past exit polls. W Bush got a large chunk of Latino votes when he promoted immigration reform. Romney could have done better with Latinos had he taken the same stance. Instead, he went “self-deportation” and made the architect of AZ’s new laws part of his staff.

        As for Asian Americans, Pres Obama did better among them than he did among Latinos. And who’s more successful, has more two-parent homes, etc than Asian Americans?

        The impact of race goes deeper than politics. Otherwise, Michael Steele would’ve been governor of Maryland and not the RNC chairperson. It crops up in education, justice, health care, housing, lending – name any area of American life, and I can describe how race impacts it. Further including marriage rates and marriageability, quality and quantity of time with family, infant mortality and, apparently, religion.

        You may also want to be aware of the fact that growing up in a single-parent home doesn’t have as damaging an impact on black children than white children. That children of color are routinely face school discipline more often and more harshly than white children even though all children misbehave the same. That black and Latino children are routinely placed in academic tracks lower than what their standardized test scores would dictate while white children are put on higher tracks than their scores indicate.

        If solving race-related issues was as easy as addressing the stereotypes you appear to reference, why, African Americans would’ve long ago been paid reparations not only for slavery, but neo-slavery and the denial of Depression era programs and GI bill benefits. Right? So much of American culture and opportunity has to do with one color – green. Right? Cause a couple with only high school diplomas can’t afford all the cultural differences you site. There’s no time to work hard to keep kids out of trouble; they have to work. There’s no time to spend personally involved in the child(ren)’s education; parents have to work. It becomes increasingly difficult to avoid jail time if you can’t afford a good lawyer and/or bail and/or have the community standing to influence the decisions judges and prosecutors make.

        . . . Yeah. Let America and American businessess pay out reparations, not just for the previously mentioned injustices but current income discrimination. Let’s pay up these “checks marked insufficient funds” – then get back to me about “cultural differences.”

        • cordoba blue

          “There’s no time to work hard to keep kids out of trouble; they have to work. There’s no time to spend personally involved in the child(ren)’s education; parents have to work.”
          You have to “work hard” to keep kids out of trouble? Just having a male in the home is a strong deterrent to keeping kids out of trouble. And getting “personally involved” with your child’s education is mandatory if you expect your child to do well in school. Excuses, excuses, excuses.
          Statistics show us that there are more single parent black families than ANY OTHER ETHNIC group in America. And many black men who leave when they find their girl friends with child have enough money to entertain another girl friend, right?
          A society that is falling apart FROM THE INSIDE cannot make progress.The family unit in EVERY SINGLE SOCIETY on Earth, and that certainly includes people in poor African countries, is the one component that keeps the children safe, happy, and on the road to responsibility, not self-destruction.
          I mentioned earlier that historically many indigenous groups in Africa put their male sons through manhood training. This was common with Native Americans too. The requirements were harsh and the children were encouraged since birth (by fathers and mothers) to meet the requirements. If they did not meet the requirements they were shunned from the group and could not even marry.
          And these were not people living in 4,000 sq feet brick houses, but in huts made of natural materials like sun-baked mud or tents made of animal skins. So, money is the prerequisite for being there for your children? No, that’s not what history tells us. Being there for your children begins with a sense of responsibility and just plain love for the tiny being you helped create. If you can walk away from this responsibility to date other women, buy jewelry and electronics, buy furniture for your apartment etc you can afford to be a daddy. It just takes the will to do it.
          Many social workers in the black community (and I tutor the children of a black social worker)tell me the same thing I’m telling you. I now tutor 6 African American children. 5 of them are being raised by their mother. And according to what they tell me, their absentee father is NOT in jail, and is NOT in poor health and nothing impedes him from getting some kind of job. He simply doesn’t want to. These women are struggling, but obviously find time to bring their children to the book store where I tutor so their kids can get academic help.
          Now I’m not saying all African Americans need to hire a tutor or spend money on extras such as dancing lessons and piano lessons like more affluent white people. But there is nothing stopping African American couples from marrying! Nothing. And there is no evidence that black males who join gangs who engage in illegal activities have strong male models at home.There is plenty of evidence that these children have NO male role models at home.
          A society that is falling apart from the INSIDE will fall apart no matter what outside aid is available. You can’t legislate caring about your children. You can’t make people marry. This is America. You are free to self-destruct if you so choose. This isn’t China where it’s a law to have only one child to deter population growth.
          Again, if a society fails their own children by refusing to provide support and guidance, no amount of outside help will alter the outcome.

          • cordoba blue

            Children from single-parent families are more likely to become involved in criminal activity. According to one study, children raised in single-parent families are one-third more likely to exhibit anti-social behavior.(3) Moreover, O’Neill found that, holding other variables constant, black children from single- parent households are twice as likely to commit crimes as black children from a family where the father is present. Nearly 70 percent of juveniles in state reform institutions come from fatherless homes, as do 43 percent of prison inmates.(4) Research indicates a direct correlation between crime rates and the number of single-parent families in a neighborhood.(5)

            As Barbara Dafoe Whitehead noted in her seminal article for The Atlantic Monthly:

            The relationship [between single-parent families and crime] is so strong that controlling for family configuration erases the relationship between race and crime and between low income and crime. This conclusion shows up time and again in the literature. The nation’s mayors, as well as police officers, social workers, probation officers, and court officials, consistently point to family break up as the most important source of rising rates of crime.(6)

  6. Maria Chavez

    White privilege cannot be denied, but unfortunately it is denied by many whites. I ran literally into a former professor of mine at a conference this weekend who exemplifies this kind of white privilege. I even wrote about him in the last chapter of my book after having endured three seminars with him and his right-wing racism. He literally bumped into me getting out of the elevator, looked at me, and looked away. We have a word for that in Spanish: pendejo. All I can say is they are on the losing side of history and they know it. I think that is why they are fighting.

  7. Mark Williams

    You make a living promoting and writing about racism. So why is it that white people are racists when half of them them vote for a white man, but black people are not racist when almost all of them vote for a black man? Maybe it’s time for a little glance into the mirror? If you want to be taken seriously you’ll have to do better than that.

    • Maria Chavez


      Joe Feagin makes a living by devoting his life to the pursuit of knowledge. This authentic pursuit has uncovered the shadow side of American history, politics, and society (culture). The only way we can be closer as a community and society is to transcend it. Joe’s work ultimately helps us to do this. Read some of his books with an open mind.


  8. @ Cordoba Blue – A friendly reminder: since you’ve consistently blasted me for saying things I never said, I’ve long since stopped reading any reply you leave me. I stopped reading your comments about that same time.

    Just thought you’d like to know so you could save yourself the time and energy of lengthy replies that will go unread. Well . . . at least by me, the commenter to whom you’re replying.

    Blaque Swan

  9. Joe Author

    Mark, you have to first understand that “racism” in its original meaning (as determined by the scholar who coined that term in Germany under the Nazis) and in its still deepest meaning, means systemic racism. Only whites have created and maintained a system of racial oppression in the US case. In the original sense, thus, there is only systemic white racism. Anyone can be prejudiced but whites are the ones who created our 346 years of extreme racial oppression (Jim Crow and slavery) and the few decades of still large scale discrimination against Black Americans and other Americans of color since the end of Jim Crow in 1969. Whites still firmly control — in spite of Obama’s election and other modest recent gains for Americans of Color — our political, economic, and legal systems, and they control our “white party,’ too–that is, the Republican Party. So white men voted at about 63 percent and white women at about 56 percent to put that white party back fully into power. Blacks, Latinos, Asian Americans voted overwhelmingly to keep that white party from getting back into power and making things worse than they are now (still much racial discrimination targeting them, and great inequalities of economic and political power). Even so , whites (mostly men) still run all major institutions in the country, including Congress, the Supreme Court, and much of the White House. Yet white men are only about 32 percent of the adult population!

  10. readmewell

    “In the 2012 election Senator Obama won an estimated 50.8 percent of the total popular vote (when all is finally counted), compared to 52.9 percent in 2008.”

    You mean, President Obama. Senator Obama ran in 2008.


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