Seal of Alabama: wikimedia commons Seal of Alabama: wikimedia commons

You cannot understand the Alabama result if you divide and deride working class voters. Throw out elite centrism and look at class, argues Kevin Ovenden

There was a massive Democrat operation to lift the black vote in Alabama. They aimed to do so, as all conventional electoral folklore says, by not antagonising a counter-reaction for the Republican base.

But still, the election was polarised – and with a major intervention by Donald Trump. It was national news that the race had become competitive. So it is not as if you could run a subterranean operation with the opponent asleep. (Only rarely do those chances present themselves – and they should be seized cunningly when they do).

The Black vote *alone* does not explain the outcome. There was an increased share also of the vote among whites for the Democrat. And there was a big differential turnout which saw many white voters spurn voting for the Republican Moore.

It was very marked, as far as I can gather, among white women voters. It seems the turnout in that category was about 33 percent. The overall turnout was 45 percent – 1.35 million out of around 3 million on the roll.

Those figures should be grounds for great scepticism about some of the takes so much of the liberal commentariat, such as the New York Times, are pumping out over the Alabama result. This has been unfortunately echoed by some on the left. 

All of them are based on a naive reading of the Edison Research exit poll. As with so much US electoral analysis it has apparently exquisitely detailed breakdowns of how different demographics voted. But the bar charts ignore the fact that most people did not vote. And thus they do not provide a baseline for either why people voted or why those who had previous electoral affiliation did not express it this time.

The exit polling also tends to obscure distinctions between town and country, a problem made greater by the gerrymandering of US voting districts.

There can be several reasons why people do not vote. They range from a reactionary and depressed disengagement from society to a highly sophisticated and progressive refusal to endorse the parties which are on offer.

In the US, lacking even a social democratic let alone a radical left electoral formation, the latter is a very significant category.

It includes those who, for example, campaigned under the slogan “Bernie or bust” in the Democrat primaries last year: ie either Bernie is in the general election or we are not voting.

It includes many socialists I know in the US. It would be the height of elitist arrogance not to imagine that among the 55 percent who did not vote in Alabama is a cohort with equally good sense reasons not to get behind the old twin-party game.

Others will have decided not to vote not for such clearly left wing or class conscious ideological reasons. There will have been habitual Republican voters who did not come out this time. But the important thing is that they did not come out.

And that puts the kibosh on some of the juvenile stuff that is going around along the lines of: “white people in Alabama preferred their racism so much that they were prepared to vote for a pedophile”.

A particular target of that barb has been white women in the state of Alabama. The exit polling figures slice and dice by “race”, sex, college-educated, party identification, “ideology” (a peculiar American taxonomy of “liberal, moderate and conservative”), age, though not by any scientific measure of class.

But the most striking thing is this. Just one in five women in Alabama – white, Black and Latina combined – voted for the reactionary Moore on Tuesday. Among men the figure is only one in four.

The population of Alabama is about 72 percent white.

The Democrat machine is interpreting this result as reason to carry on as before. In reality what the result shows is a decline of voter attraction by both the parties, but with the reality of all-American racism still providing a compact potential Black vote to counterbalance for the Democrats.

Of course, the Black voter of Alabama will get nothing from the outcome if it is left with the matter of the performance of their new Senator. The “Black vote” is not an appreciating asset in the bank. It is a perishing commodity.

But the potential to forge a better political development out of this big defeat for the Republicans – albeit with a particularly scandal-ridden candidate and the national party divided – is real.

It will mean, however, the forces of the left chucking out of the window and onto a bonfire the lexicon of conventional centrist politics for the last 30 years.

It certainly means rejecting the idiocy about white voters – women as particular demons – “embracing pedophiles because they are so racist”. (I should say – few on the left in the US are spouting that, though various white male opinionators in London are.)

The 8 June election in Britain was a refutation of the politics of the previous generation.

We should fully clear house and chuck out the junk methodology of 25 years ago and its New Democrats and New Labour political technique.

That would be a good intellectual contribution from the socialist movement in Britain back across the Atlantic, whence came Clinton-Blairism.

Kevin Ovenden

Kevin Ovenden is a progressive journalist who has followed politics and social movements for 25 years. He is a leading activist in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, led five successful aid convoys to break the siege on Gaza, and was aboard the Mavi Marmara aid ship when Israeli commandoes boarded it killing 10 people in May 2010. He is author of Syriza: Inside the Labyrinth.