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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Democratic Potential Among White Working Class Voters (Continued)

Yesterday, I started discussing the new Pew Research Center political typology survey and what it tells us about Democratic potential among white working class voters. Here is the continuation of the list of the most relevant data points from the survey:
4. Pro-government conservatives (PGCs) believe, by 80-13, that “government should do more to help needy Americans even it means going deeper into debt” They also believe, by 83-11, that too much power is concentrated in the hands of few large companies and, by 66-27, government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest. Finally, the PGCs believe , by 61-32, that stricter environmental regulations are worth the costs, rather than that such regulations cost too many jobs and hurt the economy. (Note: no data available on these questions for Disaffecteds.)
5. Both PGCs (47-46) and Disaffecteds (53-31) put a higher priority on moving stem cell research forward than on not destroying potential life in human embryos.
6. Both PGCs (71-22) and Disaffecteds (78-13) overwhelmingly endorse the idea that outsourcing is bad for the economy because of its effect on jobs, rather than good for the economy because it keeps costs down.
7. The Pew report puts a great deal of emphasis on the centrality of national security issues in determining who leans Democratic and who leans Republican. Indeed, the report asserts:

Foreign affairs assertiveness now almost completely distinguishes Republican-oriented voters from Democratic-oriented voters; this was a relatively minor factor in past typologies. In contrast, attitudes relating to religion and social issues are not nearly as important in determining party affiliation.

In light of this argument, it’s interesting to note that PGCs and Disaffecteds do depart from the Republican-leaning consensus on some foreign policy issues. For example, Disaffecteds believe that the best way to ensure peace is through good diplomacy, rather than military force (49-38) and that relying too much on force creates hatred and more terrorism, rather than that military force is the best way to defeat terrorism (47-38). And PGCs think, by 50-40, that US foreign policy should account for allies’ interests, even if that entails compromise, rather than follow national interests even when allies disagree.
Of course, none of this means that white working class voters in these two groups will be an easy “get” for the Democrats. The Pew report provides abundant data on various pressures pushing these voters in the GOP direction.
Nor does it mean that simply invoking some of the issues on which these groups agree with Democrats will produce an automatic harvest of white working class votes. As Ralph Whitehead points out, reaching these voters is a great deal more complicated than that.
But it does indicate a serious opening for Democratic appeals among these voters. And it is important to stress that such appeals need not eliminate the GOP advantage among white working class voters or even come close. All that is necessary is to reduce their current landslide levels of dominance among these voters to dominance that is not quite so lopsided.
Keep in mind that Bill Clinton actually carried white working class voters in both his successful presidential campaign (by a single percentage point in both instances). But Democrats need not replicate that performance. If Democrats can simply keep the Republican margin among white working class voters to the low double digits (say 11-12 points), and maintain their margins from 2004 among college-educated whites and among minority groups (note that I assume no improvement from 2004 in the Democratic peformance among Hispanics, though I strongly believe that is likely to happen), my estimates indicate that the Democrats will win the 2008 presidential election by 3 points.
And if the Democrats can keep the Republican margin among working class whites to single digits? It’s lights out, GOP.