There are less than 100 days left in the race for the US Presidency. And Race is becoming a major issue in the campaign, no thanks to a struggling President Donald Trump.
On Wednesday, in Texas, he hit at the core white Americas' way of living in saying that he had stopped the Democrats from bringing in low income housing to white suburbs and changing the racial profile of these places.
It is core because it was the Black immigration in the fifties and sixties that drove White America to the suburbs, and has more recently driven them to sub-suburbs. It was white suburban America that pushed Trump into the White House, when he shattered the blue (Democrats) wall in three key states -- Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. With narrow margins of less than one per cent in each of these states, he stole 46 electoral votes from Hillary Clinton. And the presidency.
For the first time since 2008, the Democrats seem to be regaining White support (the above chart shows exit poll data till 2016) and this is critical to winning an election. Non-Hispanic white America is only 60 per cent of the population when it comes to votes, but it is still the dominating force accounting for 73 per cent of the total vote share. The reason for the low minority turnout ranges from economic (no time off) to lack of registration. In Republican states like Texas, registration for minorities is made deliberately difficult.
The other Trump attack is on law and order. He is using the Black Lives Matter protests to show white America that he is the strongman that will maintain law and order while his challenger Joe Biden would allow many Portlands to flower. In fact, yesterday's promise to send federal forces to Detroit (Michigan) Milwaukee (Wisconsin) and Cleveland (Ohio) to curb protests and stop murders, is directed at white fears in these three key battleground states which helped him win the presidency in 2016 but where he is trailing in opinion polls right now.
White fears over law and order were much of the reason why after the rioting in Chicago at the Democratic convention in 1968, Richard Nixon focused his campaign on those events and called on the silent majority to come out and support him.
Trump strongly believes that racism and law and order (which he intertwines) are what will bring the suburbs back.
An academic study by Loran Collingwood et al says that of the nine per cent of the voters who switched loyalties in 2016, the main reason was race and that this may be a continuing phenomenon.
"Our findings suggest that racial and immigration attitudes may be continuing to sort White voters into new partisan camps and further polarize the parties," says the study.
So why should Biden select a black woman as his Vice Presidential running mate? (He has already committed that the running mate will be a woman)
The argument is that it would solidify black support for him and would specifically help bring back the 6 per cent blacks that didn't turn up in 2016 for Hillary Clinton.
One study has showed that in the three key blue states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, just under 1 million potential black voters did not turn up.
That's a very powerful argument. Consolidate the black vote with a black on the ticket. But there are problems with that approach.
The first is to recognise that anyone voting for Biden is also taking into account the fact that his Vice president may succeed to office, given Biden's age. Therefore those voting for the Democratic ticket with a Black as the running mate must consciously acknowledge that they are happy to have a black woman President. The question then is how many Americans want another Black president?
If you were to scratch the surface of many white independents (who are almost a third of the electorate), it is highly unlikely that they would support another black president. Obama managed to lose the support of independents by seven per cent, dropping from 52% to 45%. Hillary Clinton managed to push that down to 42 per cent. A recent CBS poll (July 24) found Biden trailing Trump marginally in independent voter support by 40 to 43 per cent.
The fact is the Obama presidency is the reason that Trump is in office. Obama managed to lose white support within days of becoming President. His support dropped by four per cent in 2012 compared to 2008, and it was only the huge black support (93%) and the Hispanic (71%) and Asian (73%) votes that took him over the line in 2012.
The second point - how many blacks are likely to not vote for the Democratic ticket, irrespective of who the running mate is?
Black support to democrats has remained close to 90 per cent for decades, even though the turnout dropped in 2016. Black voters know that Trump isn't a real option for them. In 2018, the off year election, the black turnout surged to 51 per cent from 41 per cent in 2014. And the same CBS shows that the majority of blacks are voting against Trump or because they are Democrats.
As Beyonce said about black voters, "We have to vote because our life depends on it, because it does."
So whatever the impediments to a higher non-white turnout, White Votes Matter and it is unlikely that Biden can win without at least 40% of the white vote, which is about what Obama got in 2012.
Obama's victories were also because of a huge surge in Hispanic support. From a low of 53% in Bush's re-election in 2004, Obama lifted Hispanic support to 71% in 2012. This helped compensate for the drop from independent white voters.
More critically, the total number of eligible Hispanic voters has grown from 21 million in 2010 to an estimate 33 million this year, a number that would put them above the number of eligible black voters. If the trend of greater Hispanic voter participation -- as it happened in the off year election of 2018 when their turnout went from 28% in 2014 to 41% -- continues, a Hispanic vote at just over 50% would be greater than the total black vote.
In three key battleground states that Trump won in 2016, the Hispanic vote is critical.
So should Biden choose the Hispanic Governor of New Mexico, Michelle Grisham, as his running mate and hope that it is enough to take Florida (Trump margin in 2016 was 1%) and neighbouring Arizona and make him President? With 39 electoral votes between them, it would bring Trump down from 304 to 265 and push the Democrats up to a winning 276.
Or should he choose Gretchen Whitmer, the white Governor of the battleground state of Michigan and hope that along with neighbouring Wisconsin, it would add 30 electoral votes.
It would certainly leave the option of another white President if something were to happen to Biden. Whitmer has been targeted by Trump and has proven to be quite combative. That, given Biden's more laidback style, may be an asset.
Both these women are supposedly on Biden's shortlist; though neither of them is well-known outside their state, both have good ratings within their states.
Currently, Biden is sitting in a position where he could score a landslide victory if he wins all battleground states he is leading in or tied in. But all he needs is any three, and maybe a fourth for comfort. Yet to finish any possibility of a Trump challenge in courts if the votes are close, he must target that big win.
Normally, the choice of a vice presidential candidate doesn't really add much to the winning team, and most losing ones are forgotten. But it could have negative consequences like in the case of Sarah Palin in 2008. So could choosing a black candidate in an already polarised America. It could be the stick that breaks Biden's back. We will know next week.
Of course none of this may matter if Trump finds a way to postpone the elections.
(Ishwari Bajpai is Senior Advisor at NDTV)
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