Modern-day “Class Consciousness” and “Class Resentment”: the unacknowledged—but vitally important—perspective that is necessary to understand why many non-racist white working class voters voted for Trump—and might do so again if Democrats don’t figure out how to respond.
A Democratic candidate running in a district with a significant number of white working class voters quickly learns that there are three major explanations for Trump’s popularity among these Americans.1
- Racism and bigotry
- Anxiety and hostility over loss of status, role and position in a changing society
- Legitimate and justified anger regarding difficult economic circumstances
Each of these explanations has important implications for how a Democratic candidate should run his or her campaign. The first, for example, clearly suggests that a candidate should simply abandon any attempt to gain support among these voters while the second and third explanations suggest two distinct approaches for wining their support.
Yet even the two more sympathetic interpretations above do not suggest any answer to two absolutely central questions that any proposed explanation for the behavior of white working class voters needs to answer: (1) If difficult economic circumstances were actually the key issue for the non-racist sector of the white working class, why did they vote for a conservative rather than a progressive alternative and (2) why do so many of these voters still continue to support Trump despite his obvious betrayal of key populist campaign promises and flagrant personal corruption?
None of the three explanations above seem to directly suggest answers to these critical questions. This indicates that there is some other factor involved that has not been properly understood.