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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Teixeira: How Dems Can Reach Working-Class Voters

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

Comrades! Here Is How We Reach the Working Class!

Everybody should take a look at the new study by Jacobin/Center for Working Class Politics/YouGov on how the left (running as Democrats) can actually reach working class voters. It’s really quite good and remarkably free from the usual left blinders about the actually-existing working class. Hats off to Jacobin, which despite its professed Marxism and fondness for great Communists of the past stories (which I actually quite like as a student of left history), has an ongoing flirtation with practical politics that very much runs through this study. The full report is well worth a look but here’s a little bit:

“In the last five years, a rejuvenated progressive left has established itself as a potent force in American politics….And yet, for the most part….progressive triumphs have been concentrated in well-educated, relatively high-income, and heavily Democratic districts. Even when progressives have won primaries in working-class areas, they have generally done so without increasing total turnout or winning over new working-class voters. And in races outside the friendly terrain of the blue-state metropolis, the same progressive candidates have largely struggled. Overall, progressives have not yet made good on one key promise of their campaigns: to transform and expand the electorate itself.

This poses a major challenge to any hope for a national political realignment on progressive terms. Recent events suggest that left-wing candidates may continue to replace moderate Democrats in demographically favorable urban districts, which could lead to more progressive policies at the municipal or state level. But the national picture is less promising. There are simply not enough districts of this kind to win control of the US House of Representatives, never mind the Senate. For the kind of majority necessary to pass Medicare for All or any of the other big-ticket items on the social democratic agenda, progressive candidates will need to win in a far wider range of places. Until they do, their political leverage will remain sharply limited at the local, state, and national levels.”

Exactly. Sounds like something I’d say.

Some key takeaways from the report:

“Working-class voters prefer progressive candidates who focus primarily on bread-and-butter economic issues, and who frame those issues in universal terms. This is especially true outside deep-blue parts of the country. Candidates who prioritized bread-and-butter issues (jobs, health care, the economy), and presented them in plainspoken, universalist rhetoric, performed significantly better than those who had other priorities or used other language. This general pattern was even more dramatic in rural and small-town areas, where Democrats have struggled in recent years.

* Populist, class-based progressive campaign messaging appeals to working-class voters at least as well as mainstream Democratic messaging. Candidates who named elites as a major cause of America’s problems, invoked anger at the status quo, and celebrated the working class were well received among working-class voters — even when tested against more moderate strains of Democratic rhetoric.

* Progressives do not need to surrender questions of social justice to win working-class voters, but certain identity-focused rhetoric is a liability. Potentially Democratic working-class voters did not shy away from progressive candidates or candidates who strongly opposed racism. But candidates who framed that opposition in highly specialized, identity-focused language fared significantly worse than candidates who embraced either populist or mainstream language.

* Working-class voters prefer working-class candidates. A candidate’s race or gender is not a liability among potentially Democratic working-class voters. However, a candidate’s upper-class background is a major liability. Class background matters.

* Working-class nonvoters are not automatic progressives. We find little evidence that low-propensity voters fail to vote because they don’t see sufficiently progressive views reflected in the political platforms of mainstream candidates.

* Blue-collar workers are especially sensitive to candidate messaging — and respond even more acutely to the differences between populist and “woke” language. Primarily manual blue-collar workers, in comparison with primarily white-collar workers, were even more drawn to candidates who stressed bread-and-butter issues, and who avoided activist rhetoric.”

All quite sensible in my view and consistent with other available data. But give the whole report a look–it’s worth it.

David Leonhardt also has a useful piece on report findings relevant tor reaching swing voters.

One comment on “Teixeira: How Dems Can Reach Working-Class Voters

  1. Martin Lawford on

    The strategy suggested by Jacobin and the Center for Working Class Politics will be especially useful to Beto O’Rourke in his campaign for Governor of Texas. O’Rourke will have to attract a large number of working class voters to his ticket to unseat the Republican incumbent, Abbott. Of the fifty states Texas is eighth in highest income inequality. Abbott has done little about this except to encourage it, so this should be a sound issue for O’Rourke to campaign on.


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