J.P. Green wrote yesterday about Tom Edsall’s much-discussed piece on the “abandonment” of the white-working-class vote by Democrats. I’d like to add one pretty simple point, because it involves one of my pet peeves. Check out Edsall’s lede:
[P]reparations by Democratic operatives for the 2012 election make it clear for the first time that the party will explicitly abandon the white working class.
He goes on, as Green’s summary notes, to quote from TDS Co-Editors Stan Greenberg and Ruy Teixeira at considerable length about more realistic goals for Democratic performance among WWC voters in 2012.
But the planted axiom in this account is that anything other than a determination to “win” the WWC represents an “abandonment” of this cohort, presumably in favor of those flashy upscale white professional voters Democrats have been “winning.”
The problem, of course, is that you do not get bonus points in an election for “winning” this or that cohort. A vote is a vote, and gaining more votes in any cohort has precisely the same effect as gaining more votes in another. The loaded term “abandonment” is only relevant if Democrats are actively spurning the WWC vote, which will not be the case so long as there is a labor movement aligned with the party.
To be fair, Edsall makes an entirely legitimate point about the relative coherence of a coalition centered on lower-income voters across racial and geographical lines as compared to one in which upscale white voters are a more significant component:
The New Deal Coalition — which included unions, city machines, blue-collar workers, farmers, blacks, people on relief, and generally non-affluent progressive intellectuals — had the advantage of economic coherence. It received support across the board from voters of all races and religions in the bottom half of the income distribution, the very coherence the current Democratic coalition lacks.
That’s true, but the New Deal coalition was not so “coherent” when it came to a host of other issues, most notably civil rights, and more recently, on a variety of cultural issues. And any lack of Democratic “coherence” on economic issues today that is attributable to a less homogenous coalition is certainly matched by the anomaly of Republicans relying on a coalition that includes WWC voters while advancing economic policy proposals focused monomaniacally on adding to the ever-increasing wealth of “job creators.”
It is always in order to pay close attention to the components of a party’s electoral profile and their relationship to its values, policies and message, and Edsall is very good at it. But it’s equally important to remember that voter cohorts are often hard to typecast; that their size, propensity to vote, and geographical location are important variables in assessing their political value; and above all, that in the end a vote’s a vote.