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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Winning the White Working-Class vs. Winning a Bigger Share of It

Democrats should aspire to be the party of a majority of working-class voters of all races. But that isn’t going to happen overnight; it will take a few election cycles, and that is an optimistic scenario.

It should nonetheless remain a primary long-term goal of the party. If Democrats don’t represent working-class people, then what are they really about? Abandoning that goal would guarantee continued political impotence and stagnation. Demographic realities do not support a “skip the white workers” strategy.

White workers, narrowly defined as non-college voters, are about 40-45 percent of the most recent electorate, nation-wide. But let’s keep in mind that “non-college” is a statistically-useful designation, but not a perfect definition of working-class voters. There are substantial numbers of white, college-educated workers doing service work and ‘pink collar’ jobs in the U.S. economy. It’s likely that a majority of today’s voters hail from the white working-class.

Moreover, the morality of seeking a work-around the white working class is pretty shameful. Democrats must keep moving toward becoming a party that workers of all races can look to for leadership that can make their lives better.

In the short term, however, a more achievable goal is needed to prevent disaster for Dems: Democrats should try hard to win a modestly-larger share of working-class voters: taking away just 5 percent of white working-class voters from Republicans in 2024 would be a great victory. Taking 10 percent of their white worker voters would be politically-transformative, and go a long way toward enacting a full-blown progressive economic agenda.

These percentages can be even smaller if Democrats do a better job of mobilizing a larger turnout of sizable Dem-friendly constituencies, like Black voters, Mexican Americans, college students and women concerned about reproductive rights. It won’t be easy, since turnout of some traditionally pro-Democratic groups has declined in recent elections. But there is so much room for turnout improvement with all of these constituencies that abandoning that goal would be political malpractice.

Few Democratic elected officials and Democratic voters actually embrace unpopular policies like ‘open borders’ or ‘defunding the police.’ Some organizations do, they are very loud and big media amplifies their voices. That gives the impression to many that most Democrats are in favor of such policies, and that screws up the Democratic ‘brand.’

Some progressive Democrats advocate policies that are unpopular with white workers, like banning fracking, gun control or tuition-free college education, to name a few. Their views are usually tailored to appeal to their particular constituencies and they are sometimes right. But the arrogant way they sometimes express their views too often invites hostility from blue collar workers. Hence the bumper sticker, “Drill everywhere: My truck won’t run on unicorn piss.”

However, few who advocate culturally ‘progressive’ views are going to change because of anything commentators say about them. Nor will many Democratic moderates change their views because of anything progressive Democrats say. That debate is never going to be resolved, and that’s not a bad thing. We’re supposed to have vigorous policy debates, unlike Republicans who don’t stand for much besides tax give-aways to the wealthy, cuts in social spending and deregulation.

Meanwhile, Democratic strategists should explore promising approaches, like developing targeted policy mixes and pitching strategies that can appeal to small business entrepreneurs, seniors or rural voters. Democratic elected officials already support an impressive range of policies that benefit white working-class voters. But they have to do a better job of spelling out these reforms, publicizing their support and calling out Republican opposition. Picking off a percent or two of Republicans share of the vote here and there can make a big difference.

Democrats are not going to suddenly become ‘the party of the working-class’ in time for next year’s elections. That’s going to take longer. But Dems must implement a short-term 2024 strategy that can win or at least prevent Republicans from being able to further gerrymander Democrats out of power. That has to include a full range of short-term tactics, including potentially-risky projects like opposition primary meddling where it will work – while making steady progress toward becoming the party working-class voters trust.

Democrats have to play a better short game as well as a more effective long-term one. There are overlapping strategies for both, but Dems must stay nimble and be ready to seize every short-term opportunity to make gains in the next election.

2 comments on “Winning the White Working-Class vs. Winning a Bigger Share of It

  1. Stephan Edwards on

    The reality is (And I know how few friends saying it out loud will make me) the Democratic party IS NOT a party of working class and hasn’t been in decades. It is a party of what Piketty refers to as the Brahmin left AKA the Professional/Managerial class. A group predominately College educated and White-Collar, a group that prefers social issues to Economic ones if only because most of them economically fall in the “I’ve got mine S—- you jack” category. The Democrats blatantly abandoned the working class and that doesn’t look like to change. It’s policies, interests and actions are blatantly those of the Managerial/Professional class NOT those of the working class. And if anyone believes that’s going to change? I’ve got a bridge for sale great view of Brooklyn.

  2. Martin Lawford on

    If “Few Democratic elected officials actually embrace unpopular policies like ‘open borders'”, how is it that nearly five million illegal aliens have entered the United States since President Biden took office?


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