Analysts, start your theories
NASCAR Dads: a powerful swing bloc or political fiction? Political scientists can’t agree
BY KIRSTEN B. MITCHELL
MEDIA GENERAL NEWS SERVICE Feb 29, 2004
WASHINGTON – Angry White Males were first. Then came Soccer Moms.
Now NASCAR Dads are the darlings of pollsters and pundits.
Not so fast, says Charlie Cook, who publishes a political newsletter in Washington. He proposes putting the brakes on the phrase.
“[T]his business about the ‘NASCAR dad’ being the swing voter group of the 2004 election, or any other national election, is one of the dumbest ideas I’ve heard in my 32 years in and around politics,” Cook wrote last week.
Ted Arrington, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, agrees.
“The term [NASCAR Dad] is absolutely as imprecise and meaningless as soccer moms,” he said.
Democratic pollster Celinda Lake is the mother of the NASCAR Dad. She coined the term in 2002 when she told The Associated Press that Democrats should woo working-class fathers.
NASCAR Dad took off as pundits, pollsters and the media followed Lake’s lead in identifying crucial swing voters in this year’s elections. When President Bush attended the Daytona 500 this month, the NASCAR Dad achieved mythic status. But is he really a swing voter?
The problem with the NASCAR Dad moniker is that it describes people who are “disproportionately white, Southern, workingand middle-class 30-somethings,” a group that already strongly supports Bush and can’t be labeled swing, Cook said.
“NASCAR Dads haven’t voted Democratic in a presidential election since Moby Dick was a guppy,” Cook wrote.
Gary Langer, director of polling for ABC News, also dismisses NASCAR Dads as the latest swing voters.
“White men, particularly Southern white men, are a solidly Republican group, highly unlikely to swing anywhere,” he said.
Langer reviewed exit-poll data from 2000 and found that rural, suburban or small-city married, white fathers with incomes less than $50,000 accounted for 2 percent of all voters. The group supported Bush over Al Gore by 70 percent to 27 percent.
Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida political scientist, agrees that NASCAR Dads tend to lean Republican.
But “in close elections, every group can legitimately claim that they’re the swing vote,” she said. “You neglect a group at your own peril. If you can peel off a percentage or two of the vote, then that’s the difference between winning and losing in some districts.”
NASCAR’s own polling data shows that among its 75 million fans who are registered voters, 43 percent are Republican, while 41 percent are Democrats, said Andrew Giangola, a NASCAR spokesman. The remaining 16 percent report that they are independent. It is not known how many of the sport’s followers are registered voters, he said.
The sanctioning body for stock-car racing finds the NASCAR Dad label “somewhat flattering,” Giangola said. But “to use it as a snapshot of our entire fan base is somewhat inaccurate.”
Forty percent of NASCAR fans are women, including MacManus, 56, who has a doctorate and shares an affinity for stock-car racing with her brother-in-law, an artist.
In 1994, Angry White Males were pivotal voters in congressional and legislative races that brought Republicans to power.
Remember the Soccer Mom – the white, suburban, married mother? She appeared in print only four times in 1990 and 10 times in 1993, according to the Web site www.wordspy.com. By 1996, Soccer Moms were all the rage, appearing 1,150 times in the news media, the Web site said.
In 1996, Lake came up with Waitress Moms, blue-collar working women without a college education supporting children. Lake suggested NASCAR Dads after fellow Democratic pollster Mark Penn coined Office-Park Dads, upscale suburban men who lean Republican.
“The very nature of polling is to present your data in an enlightening and eye-grabbing way,” MacManus said. “It’s just become a vogue way of reporting polling results. The pollsters are all scrambling to be a key label maker”
“We political scientists just smirk and say, ‘Yeah, Yeah, it’s just another key phrase,'” said Arrington.
The catch phrase NASCAR Dads raced through the political lexicon so quickly that Hotline, a political online newsletter published by National Journal, asked readers for key voting blocs to replace the tired term.
Among the suggestions: Men Who Own Riding Mowers, Micro-Brew Frat Boys and Neil Diamond Fans.