Data compiled by political scientist Larry Bartels show that the president’s support among non-college-educated whites came largely from the working and lower-middle classes, exactly the people most affected by the Great Recession and the wage pressures of the preceding decade. Bartels’s analysis shows that non-Southern whites making less than about $45,000 a year voted for the president in 2012, and those making between $45,000 and $62,500 gave him more than 45 percent of their votes. Conservative analysts may decry the dependency safety-net programs engender, but clearly those voters who have struggled for decades were not so concerned.
These facts have not gone unnoticed by these states’ Republican governors. Every GOP governor in these states except Wisconsin’s Scott Walker has either expanded Medicaid or endorsed expansion, and even Walker reformed his state’s generous Medicaid program to expand insurance coverage by nearly one hundred thousand people without taking new federal money. Ohio governor John Kasich [see this comparison to Kemp] was so intent on expanding Medicaid prior to his 2014 reelection vote that he used his appointees to an obscure state board to get around opposition from Republicans in his state legislature to expand the program. The nation’s two Hispanic Republican governors, Nevada’s Brian Sandoval and New Mexico’s Susana Martinez, also took leading roles in establishing their state’s exchanges pursuant to Obamacare. Republican governors in Michigan and Pennsylvania, two other potential swing states that lean slightly Democratic, also endorsed Medicaid expansion.
INDIANA REPUBLICAN governor Mike Pence’s 2014 announcement that he, too, would seek to expand Medicaid further shows how strong the political pressure is. Pence is so conservative that as a congressman he was one of just twenty-one GOP stalwarts not to vote for President Bush’s bill creating prescription-drug coverage for seniors. Yet Indiana is another state politically dominated by whites without college degrees. This group comprised 56 percent of the 2008 electorate, the highest percentage of any midwestern state. While this group also has a significantly larger evangelical Christian portion than elsewhere in the Midwest, Pence has surely recognized that the same economic pressures that make Medicaid expansion tempting for low-income whites elsewhere apply to Hoosiers as well.
Pence’s proposal is slightly different, and as such offers a lens through which one can view the options conservatives have in crafting an original response to these pressures. The largely hostile reception his idea has met among conservative intellectuals, however, shows that the “just say no” impetus remains strong on the right.