If you were a Democratic political strategist with a multi-million dollar budget for opinion research about the white working class, which question would you want to investigate?
- How can Democrats convince the white working class to vote Democratic?
- How can Democrats identify a distinct, persuadable sector of the white working class and then convince members of that specific group to vote Democratic?
The second question is obviously far more practical and more likely to lead to useful political strategies than the first. After all, in 2008 rough estimates suggest that around 40% of less than college white voters voted Democratic. This then declined to around 36% in 2012, 31% in 2016 and then rebounded slightly to 33% in 2020. Other more precise definitions of the term “working class” produce a somewhat higher but still similar pattern of results
If Democrats could simply regain the white working class vote share that they won in 2008, this would be adequate to win many elections that Dems now loose. As a result it is not necessary for Democrats to try to win a large majority of all white working class voters and certainly not to try to win passionate Trump supporters. It is just necessary to regain perhaps 10-15% of the white working class vote that once voted Democratic and now goes Republican.
The problem, however, is that virtually the entire Democratic strategic discussion in the media today asks the first question above rather than the second.
One dramatic example is the current debate about the white working class versus a “new” coalition of People of Color and pro-Democratic college educated whites. The debate, which has flowed from the New York Times, The Atlantic and the New Republic to a range of progressive blogs, Substacks and other media, has pitted leading political data analysts like Nate Cohn, Ron Brownstein, Tom Edsall, Ruy Teixeira, David Shor and others against various advocates of the “new coalition” strategy.