Appalachian Voters

Thanks to a great article by Ta-Nehisi Coates in the Atlantic, I came across this quote by Steve Kornacki concerning Obama’s lack of popularity in Appalachia:

A majority of Kentucky’s 120 counties voted against Obama in the state’s Democratic presidential primary, opting instead for “uncommitted.” Big margins in Louisville and Lexington saved the president from the supreme embarrassment of actually losing the state, not that his overall 57.9 to 42.1 percent victory is anything to write home about…

Chalking this up only to race may be an oversimplification, although there was exit poll data in 2008 that indicated it was an explicit factor for a sizable chunk of voters. Perhaps Obama’s race is one of several markers (along with his name, his background, and the never-ending Muslim rumors, his status as the “liberal” candidate in 2008) that low-income white rural voters use to associate him with a national Democratic Party that they believe has been overrun by affluent liberals, feminists, minorities, secularists and gays – people and groups whose interests are being serviced at the expense of their own.

Coates addresses the race ignorance of failing to make the connection between perceptions of Obama as “Muslim,” and “liberal,” and all the b.s. about him being foreign and his race. Good point. I highly recommend reading the article.

To add a bit of wood to this fire, I’ll go a step further and say that low-income white rural voters are only half wrong (and half right) when they say the Democratic Party is overrun by affluent liberals, feminists, minorities, secularists, and gays at their expense. Here’s where they’re wrong – liberals, feminists, minorities, secularists, and gays are not in control of the Party.

Even calling the Democratic Party liberal is wrong. Democrats have run so far away from the label “liberal” that the Republican ploy of vilifying Democrats as liberals has had the effect of changing very meaning of the word for most Americans. Feminists certainly haven’t been able to move their agenda through the Party. Neither have LGBT folks. And minorities (I assume Kornacki is referring to people of color here) sure as hell aren’t in control.

When the Democratic Party becomes the champion of humane immigration policy we might start to imagine ourselves in control. When they finally stand up against the racist drug war, push for marriage reform so that everyone can marry, and domestic partners enjoy the same rights as married couples, we’d be getting somewhere. When the Party makes redirecting the more than $16,000,000 spent so far this year on the drug war to building schools and providing drug treatment and job opportunities in poor communities, I might start to take pride in my Democratic voter registration.

When honoring treaty rights, protecting the mineral rights, and providing adequate support for health, education, and economic development of Native people is a priority of the Democratic Party, we’d really be getting someplace.  When supporting pay equity for women is more of a priority than locking up non-violent drug offenders or detaining undocumented immigrants, the Party might start to feel like a par-tay. When President Obama starts to respond to accusations that he’s not a Christian by simply saying it doesn’t matter because we are not, by law, a Christian nation, I might faint, but only after getting on my knees to thank God.

But here’s where those low-income, white rural voters are half right. Until Appalachia is able to rise out of poverty, they have a rightful claim to being victims of injustice. The interests of others are most certainly being serviced at their expense. But those interests aren’t our interests – they’re corporate interests.

And maybe if all of us ordinary folks mattered more to the Democrats than corporate interests, those Appalachian voters might stop being so damn mad at us.

Avatar photo

By Scot Nakagawa

Scot Nakagawa is a political strategist and writer who has spent more than four decades exploring questions of structural racism, white supremacy, and social justice. Scot’s primary work has been in the fight against authoritarianism, white nationalism, and Christian nationalism. Currently, Scot is co-lead of the 22nd Century Initiative, a project to build the field of resistance to authoritarianism in the U.S.

Scot is a past Alston/Bannerman Fellow, an Open Society Foundations Fellow, and a recipient of the Association of Asian American Studies Community Leader Award. His writings have been included in Race, Gender, and Class in the United States: An Integrated Study, 9th Edition,  and Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence.

Scot's political essays, briefings, and other educational media can be found at his newsletter, We Fight the Right at He is a sought after public speaker and educator who provides consultation on campaign and communications strategy, and fundraising.

2 replies on “Appalachian Voters”

Powerful analysis and commentary, Scot. I’m sharing this one with Margo Miller, ED of Appalachian Community Fund, and encouraging her to respond. Keep the thoughtful, provocative conversations going as we continue to build our strength and movement building forward. I’m inspired by your mind, and commitment to helping to inform and get us there!

Comments are closed.