Saturday, April 5, 2008

How Out of Touch are Alabamians?

What to make about two recent polls--one about presidential politics and one about the national mood? The polls raise this question: Are Alabamians clueless, deeply out of touch, schizophrenic, myopic, or some combination of all the above.

First, we have a poll showing that Republican John McCain would beat either Democratic contender (Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama) by 20-plus percentage points in Alabama.

Then, we have a New York Times/CBS News poll showing that 81 percent of respondents are dissatisfied with the direction the country is taking. That's the highest figure the poll has seen since it began asking about the topic in the early 1990s. The poll shows that concerns about the economy are forefront in the minds of many Americans. Only 21 percent said the economy was in good shape, and 78 percent said the country was worse off than it was five years ago.

So folks are deeply concerned about the economy, and McCain has shown no indication that his economic policies would be much different from those of George W. Bush, the president who got us into this mess. And yet, Alabamians overwhelmingly support McCain.

Are Alabamians out to lunch? Well, I'm not sure that's the case. Maybe they are schizoid. Alabamians say they, too, are concerned about the economy, with 45 percent saying that is the No. 1 issue in the election. So Alabamians are concerned about the economy, but they overwhelmingly support a candidate who admits that economic issues are not his strong suit.

What's going on? My theory is that racial fear still carries the day in the Deep South, and that fear drives the schizophrenia that shows up in polls. As we noted in an earlier post, Paul Krugman of the The New York Times is right on the money when he says the race card has paid off big time for Republicans.

Since Ronald Reagan kicked off his 1980 campaign with a speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi, that emphasized "states' rights," many white Americans--in the South and elsewhere--have automatically cast their lot with the GOP. In Alabama, at least, white Americans still are voting for the GOP in a reflexive fashion, even when the Republican candidate apparently has nothing to offer on what they say is the No. 1 issue.

Our country is heading off an economic and foreign-policy cliff, and the fall is going to be long and painful. But evidently, Alabamians want to make sure they are at the front of the line when we start our free fall.

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