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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

New PRRI Study Reveals Issues That Can Help Dems Win More Support from White Working-Class

A recently-released study by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and The Atlantic magazine conducted in September and December has generated discussion about the finding that racial attitudes of white workers helped Trump win the presidency.  Although the study highlighted the significant role of racism and “cultural dislocation” in the election outcome, it also illuminated several major issues that, if emphasized in future campaigns, could give Democrats an edge, including:

German Lopez notes at Vox the study’s finding that  “about 68 percent “believe the American way of life needs to be protected from foreign influence.” In comparison, 44 percent of white college-educated Americans reported a similar view. As Lopez explains, “White working-class voters who say they often feel like a stranger in their own land and who believe the U.S. needs protecting against foreign influence were 3.5 times more likely to favor Trump than those who did not share these concerns.”

The survey also found that “about 60 percent “say because things have gotten so far off track, we need a strong leader who is willing to break the rules.” Trump projected a strong persona in the 2016 campaign. He is a rule-breaker. But it would be entirely convicing and verifiable for Democrats to project the meme that he is an extremely weak leader. In fact, “weak bully” is a term that fits him better than any other president.

Fifty-three percent of those surveyed supported increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and 58 percent said the rich should pay more in taxes. (Those figures are similar to the results for the general population.) Almost no prominent Republican leaders support such a proposed hike in the minimum wage,

“Asked how well they felt Trump understood their communities’ problems, a majority of the white working class — 51 percent — answered “not too well” or “not well at all,” notes Max Ehrenfruend at WaPo’s Wonkblog. “Those figures suggest Trump might not have long to deliver.”

One surprising revelation was that “More than seven in 10 (71 percent) white working-class Americans and about three-quarters (74 percent) of the public overall agree a person who has been convicted of a felony should be allowed to vote after he has served his sentence,” notes Steven Rosenfeld at Alternet, via salon.com. Democrats have been much stronger critics of felon disenfranchisement.

Rosenfeld also flags the finding that “twelve percent of white working-class Americans report a family member has struggled with alcoholism, while a similar number (8 percent) say the same of drug addiction. Among white college-educated Americans, fewer say someone in their household has struggled with either alcoholism (9 percent) or drug addiction (3 percent).” With Attorney General Sessions going on the warpath against pot smokers and virtually all Republican leaders wanting to cut funding for rehabilitation, Democrats may be able to win some working-class support by emphasizing their track record as supporters of rehab programs.

German notes further,

The research also shows it’s possible to reach out to Trump voters — even those who are racist or sexist today — in an empathetic way without condoning their prejudice. The evidence suggests, in fact, that the best way to weaken people’s racial or other biases is through frank, empathetic dialogue. (Much more on that in my in-depth piece on the research.) Given that, the strongest approach to really combating racism and sexism may be empathy.

One study, for example, found that canvassing people’s homes and having a 10-minute, nonconfrontational conversation about transgender rights — in which people’s lived experiences were relayed so they could understand how prejudice feels personally — managed to reduce voters’ anti-transgender attitudes for at least three months. Perhaps a similar model could be adapted to reach out to people with racist, sexist, or other deplorable views, although this possibility needs more study.

In one sense, politics is the art and science of figuring out which policies to emphasize at the right time and place. Most voters harbor a range of both conservative and liberal opinions, and this may be particularly true of the white working-class. Democrats are uniquely positioned by virtue of both track record and proposed reforms to benefit from the attitudes of white workers on these issues and others. Democratic candidates of 2018 should take note and appropriate action to leverage what they already have.

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