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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Democratic Potential Among White Working Class Voters

I’ve written quite a bit lately about Democratic woes among white working class voters. Clearly, Democrats can’t get very far without substantially improving their performance among these voters. But there is reason for hope. Two recent reports demonstrate there is considerable potential for Democratic inroads among large segments of the white working class.
The first report is a recent cover story in Business Week on “Safety Net Nation“. As the story points out:

The most predictable members of Safety Net Nation are liberals who favor activist government. The really crucial bloc, however, is made up of those who backed Bush in 2004. They still approve of his overall job performance but have soured on Wall Street and dislike the President’s approach to Social Security. This faction–estimates range from 17% to 22% of the electorate–rejects both traditional liberalism and conservative laissez-faire. In an era of rampant job insecurity, when employer-provided pensions and health coverage can no longer be taken for granted, they want a middle-class security blanket that gives them protection as they build wealth.

The story terms those Bush-backers who now think he’s gone off the rails on Social Security as “Safety Net swing voters”. And it is apparent from data provided with the story that these swing voters are primarily working class whites (especially men). I have flagged the potential for Bush’s Social Security plan to alienate Republican-leaning white working class voters (or “Sam’s Club Republicans”, as Reihan Salam, likes to call them) before and this is more evidence of the same.
The second report of interest is the new Pew Research Center 2005 Political Typology survey. This is a moose of a report and, while I generally don’t care too much for elaborate attitudinal typologies of voters such as the one used in this report, it still contains much useful data.
For our purposes, the most interesting two groups in their typology are “Pro-Government Conservatives” (PGCs) and “Disaffecteds”.
The PGCs, classified as a Republican base group, are 10 percent of voters. They are 85 percent white, 85 percent non-college-educated, 90 percent with incomes below $75,000 and 62 percent women.
The Disaffecteds, classified as a middle group (though they leaned strongly toward Bush in the last election) are also 10 percent of voters. They are 81 percent white, 89 percent non-college-educated, 87 percent with incomes below $75,000 and 57 percent men.
So both groups are clearly dominated by working class whites, though the PGCs are heavy on working class white women and the Disaffecteds on working class white men. And both of these white working class groups show considerable sympathy for Democratic approaches according to the Pew data. Here are a few of the most relevant data points:
1. PGCs favor a government guarantee of health insurance for all, even if it means raising taxes, by 63-33 and Disaffecteds favor such a guarantee by 64-26. The most economically conservative group in the GOP coalition, the “Enterprisers” (dominated by affluent, educated white men) opposes such a guarantee by 76-23.
2. PGCs favor raising the minimum wage, 94-5, and Disaffecteds favor it by 84-13.
3. PGCs, by 58-27, want Bush’s tax cuts either repealed completely or repealed for the wealthy, rather than made permanent and Disaffecteds endorse the same viewpoint by 51-33. Enterprisers, on the other hand, support making the tax cuts permanent by 82-13.
More on “Democratic Potential Among White Working Class Voters” tomorrow….