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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Democratic Strategists Are Asking the Wrong Question About the White Working Class

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?

  1. How can Democrats convince the white working class to vote Democratic?
  2. 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.

To Read the Memo, Click Here.

4 comments on “Democratic Strategists Are Asking the Wrong Question About the White Working Class

  1. Maria Ferrera on

    I think we need to look at the population trends. White working class individuals have a lower life expectancy than their college educated counterparts. This has been happening for the past decade and continues. I hate to be ghoulish but they are dying off at a faster rate which will have electoral implications in the coming years. So we need to think long and hard about short term vs long term strategies.

    Reply
  2. pjcamp on

    “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. ”

    Lose.

    But think about how they did that. Obama promised hope and change. Then he delivered a Wall Street bailout that made investment bankers whole on all the losses due to speculation, at the expense of the people looking for hope and change. So the same thing happened as always happens — the rich get free money and the middle and working classes get screwed.

    Here’s the thing — if you want people to believe what you say, you have to actually deliver on it. Obama didn’t, on the first and most important task of his administration. Whatever else he did afterward didn’t fully erase that failure. Since then, people have been looking for change wherever they think they can get it. After all, a not inconsiderable number of Bernie voters became Trump voters, and then Biden voters after Trump betrayed them.

    Reply
  3. MartinLawford on

    Casey Stengel once said, “The secret to managing is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who ain’t made up their minds yet.” If there is any wisdom in that, we need to concentrate on the persuadable voters and convince them that they are wiser, better citizens than the unpersuadable voters who have already made their minds up against us. We need to win them over to our side before the unpersuadable voters win them over to theirs.

    Reply

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