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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

How Political Illiteracy, Voting Obstacles and Apathy Reduce Working-Class Turnout

In her Time magazine post, “Why Democrats Are Losing the Working Class,” Haley Sweetland Edwards distills some salient points from the new Pew Research Center study on “The Politics of Financial Insecurity.” (In the Pew Center study financial security is evaluated by ten metrics, including savings and checking accounts, retirement assets, health security and other factors). From Edwards’s report:

While 94% of the the most financially secure Americans were registered to vote, only 54% of the least financially secure were, according to the study. Even fewer actually make it to their polling booths. While 2014 voting records are not yet available, in 2010, 69% of the most financially secure cast ballots, while just 30% of the least financially secure did, according to Pew.
The least financially secure Americans also tended to avoid other aspects of the political system as well, the study found. Working class Americans called and wrote to their representatives at much lower rates than their richer neighbors, and paid much less attention to basic facts in national politics. Roughly 60% of the most financially secure Americans could correctly identify the parties in control of the House and Senate when the study was conducted before the 2014 midterm; just 26% of the least financially secure could do the same.

But it would be a mistake to infer that political indifference is the primary driving wheel of low voter participation for the less financially secure. As Edwards notes,

…Working-class folks, who tend to have less flexible hours at work, vote disproportionately more in states that allow early voting and mail-in ballots–measures that are overwhelmingly supported by Democrats. In Colorado, for example, which began allowing mail-in ballots saw much, much higher turnout in 2014 than it’d had in 2010. Oregon and Washington, which also allow for mail-in ballots, had turnout rates that were higher than average in 2014, too. In North Carolina, where early voting measures allowed people to go to the polls over the course of seven days also helped increase voter turnout in that state by 35% from where it was in 2010.

Think about that for a moment. A 35 percent uptick in midterm turnout in a key swing state is highly significant. It would be more interesting to compare the figures for those with different levels of financial security. No doubt the more financially-secure are able to take advantage of early voting opportunities with greater ease. But indications are that expanding early voting is a winner for Dems in terms of increasing turnout of less financially-secure voters.
The Pew Research Center Study also had some interesting data on political preference and turnout of different levels of financial security:

…in 2014, the Democratic Party left far more potential votes “on the table” than did the Republicans. For example, among all of those in the least financially secure category, more than twice as many favored the Democratic candidate over the Republican (42% to 17%). But just 12% of this group favored the Democrat and were likely voters; fully 30% supported Democrats but were unlikely to vote.
Among Financially Insecure Whites, Fewer Express Candidate Preference
After the 2014 midterm election in which the GOP scored major gains in Congress and the statehouses, a particular theme of post-election analyses focused on the relatively low levels of support Democratic candidates received from white working class voters. It is true that Republican candidates were preferred to Democratic candidates among whites in all but the least financially secure group. But the overall relationship between financial situation, partisan choice and political engagement among the general public is evident among whites as well. Republican support declines as financial insecurity increases, while Democratic support is relatively flat. About three-in-ten (31%) of the least financially secure white adults declined to express a candidate preference in 2014, compared with just 6% among the most secure.

There’s a lot more that could be investigated about the interplay of financial security, race and political participation. But the Pew Study certainly suggests that Democrats have a lot to gain by becoming better identified as champions of financial security — and early voting.

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