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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

From “Who are the working class and how will they vote in 2024?” by Lois M. Collins and Suzanne Bates at Deseret News: “America’s working class are still not particularly wowed by the government and are often just plain frustrated. In the poll, 64% of registered voters who identify as part of the working class say the country is on the wrong track, compared to 27% who say it’s on the right track. And a full 52% say their personal financial situation is getting worse, compared to only 20% who say their situation is improving….What makes someone feel like they’re in the working class instead of the middle class? It’s likely related to a feeling of living on the edge financially, according to Daniel Cox, director of the Survey Center on American Life at American Enterprise Institute….This group has shifted in recent years. While the working class used to be considered solidly in the Democrats’ column, slightly more now say they lean Republican. That was evident in the Deseret News/HarrisX poll, with 40% of working class voters saying the Republican Party best represents their interests and views, compared to 36% who say the Democratic Party is a better fit. Voters who describe themselves as middle class most identified with the Republican Party, at 43% compared to 34% for Democrats, while self-identified upper class voters by far leaned most toward the Democrats, with 56% saying the party best represents their views, compared to 28% saying the same about Republicans….“How people self-identify, and the labels they naturally coalesce around, tells you a lot about their social engagement and the pressures, motivations, and values that drive their voice and their vote,” said Dritan Nesho, CEO of HarrisX, which conducted the poll. “It also defines how politicians speak to them.”….When we polled 2,178 U.S. adults in mid-April, we found 15% identified as “working class,” while another 15% said they’re lower middle class and just 5% categorized themselves as working poor. Some polls lump those together in different configurations — usually the working class and lower middle class, creating a group that includes not quite one-third of Americans. Gallup did that in May 2022 and said about one-third of Americans identify as working class.”

Collins and Bates write further, “Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at American Enterprise Institute, is a Democrat who has recently been critical of his party over their treatment of the working class. He said Democrats are preoccupied with what he calls “cultural radicalism,” which has alienated some of the working class voters who once made up their base. This shift gathered steam under Trump, who was a top choice among 48% of working class voters — by far the highest number — when asked to select from a list of which politicians best represent their interests and views, in the Deseret News/HarrisX survey…. Teixeira said many people think Republicans and Trump just appeal to white working class voters, but he said he’s seeing a shift among Latino and Black working class voters as well….Their support for Trump isn’t so much about policy, but rather about his willingness to take on the “elites,” Teixeira said, and for voters who feel alienated, that message resonates….“I thought the failure to understand this, and to basically write off all the Trump voters as a bunch of reactionary racists … I thought was a big mistake, analytically, even politically. And I think nothing has really improved too much since then,” he said….For Democrats to recapture this voting group, they need to focus again on an economic message rather than on cultural issues, he said….His colleague at AEI, Karlyn Bowman, a distinguished senior fellow, echoed his thoughts. After reviewing results of the survey, she said she saw an “extraordinary” amount of pessimism among working class voters….“The economy is the No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 issue for most Americans right now, as it is for the working class, too,” she said….Most working class are not college educated, but more than 1 in 4 are, including Aubrey Mitchell, who got a bachelor’s degree in community health education, and urged Josh to earn his general associate’s degree (30% of the working class have completed some college but did not graduate) although college was never his long-term goal. It’s a good fallback, he said, so he’s glad he completed it, even if he doesn’t use it. The vast majority of the working class have high school diplomas or better, at 95%….Most work or are looking for work, though 22% of the survey’s working class have retired.”

In “Can Democrats Win Back the Working Class? Four ways they can at least help stop the bleeding” at Slow Boring,  Jared Abbott and Fred Deveaux write: “Democrats have begun to recognize that they have a working-class problem, but it remains unclear how to solve it. We ran an experiment to find out (you can find the full report “Trump’s Kryptonite” here)….Our results suggest that Democrats can reach working-class voters by running candidates from working-class backgrounds who center working-people in their campaign rhetoric, call out economic elites, focus on the need for more and better jobs, and distance themselves from the Democratic Party establishment….Although most commentaries on the Democrats’ working-class problem have focused on working-class white voters, the last several election cycles suggest that Democrats have a working-class problem tout court. For instance, the progressive data analytics firm Catalist found Trump’s vote share among working-class (non-college) voters of color jumped six percentage points between 2016 and 2020, with both Black and especially Latino voters shifting toward Trump. Similarly, a comprehensive precinct-level analysis of 2020 voting patterns in high-Latino districts found that support for Trump in 2020 surged even in precincts with the highest number of Latino immigrants. These developments all challenge the widely-held notion that the US’s emerging majority-minority population will save the Democratic Party….What’s more, Democrats’ woes with working-class voters extend far beyond the rural and small-town voters many pundits have placed at the center of this story. Indeed, recent analyses indicate that the party faces a “ticking time bomb” with urban working-class voters in key swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, where both turnout and Democratic vote shares in 2020 were down relative to 2012….Our analysis of data from the Comparative Congressional Election Survey (CCES) and General Social Survey (GSS) survey shows similar trends. First, working-class disillusionment with the Democrats appears to have set in as early as the 1980s, with the percentage of working-class Americans (measured by occupation) who identified with the party falling from a high of around 65% in the 1970s to south of 40% by 2022. And since we find no comparable trend among middle/upper-class Americans—hose identification with the Democratic Party has fluctuated narrowly between the low and high 40s since the early 1980s—it seems this secular dealignment is a specifically working-class phenomenon….”

“So how can Democrats appeal more effectively to working-class voters?,” Abbott and Deveaux ask. “We asked 1,650 Americans to evaluate pairs of hypothetical Democratic candidates. Each candidate was randomly assigned demographic attributes, such as race, gender, and previous occupation, as well as policy positions and a rhetorical style. After comparing each pair, respondents reported which one they preferred. We limited our analysis to focus only on voters who do not describe themselves as “strong partisans,” and therefore are most likely to change their voting behavior from one year to the next and play a pivotal role in deciding elections….Our results indicate that Democratic candidates can do four things to appeal to working-class voters across the political spectrum.

  1. Run working-class candidates. All else equal, working-class voters prefer candidates from non-elite, working-class occupations (middle school teachers, construction workers, nurses, and warehouse workers) over those from elite, upper-class occupations (corporate executives, lawyers, and doctors).
  1. Focus on messages that champion the working class and critique economic elites. We found that working-class voters prefer candidates who say they will serve the interests of the working class and who place blame for the problems facing working Americans on the shoulders of economic elites. In results we do not show here, we find that this economic populist message is particularly effective among working-class respondents who work in manual jobs, a group that Democrats increasingly struggle to reach.
  1. Run on a jobs-first program. Working-class voters viewed more favorably candidates who highlighted a progressive federal jobs guarantee rather than one of the moderate economic policies we included in the survey (a small tax increase on the rich, a $15 minimum wage, and a jobs training program through small businesses). And this result was not limited to working-class Democrats. Indeed, the only policy we tested that was viewed positively by working-class respondents across the political spectrum was the progressive federal jobs guarantee—though working-class Republicans were slightly more favorable toward candidates who ran on the moderate job training program. Candidates who centered jobs were also favored by a range of other key constituencies from whom Democrats need to maintain or improve support, including African Americans, recent swing voters, low-engagement voters, non-college voters, and rural voters. Unfortunately, however, in our analysis of 2022 Democratic television ads, we found that just 18% even mentioned jobs.
  1. Take a critical stance towards both parties. Candidates who explicitly criticized the Democratic and Republican Parties for being out of touch with working- and middle-class Americans were viewed more favorably across the board compared to candidates who either said nothing or stressed that Democrats have delivered for working- and middle-class Americans (proud Democrat in the graphic below). Importantly, these results are not simply driven by voters who lean Republican, but also Independents and those who lean Democrat.”

One comment on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. Victor on

    A Jobs (in plural) Guarantee would be an empty slogan. As with many proposals that get polled in the abstract, it wouldn’t survive detailed partisan scrutiny.

    In any case, we already have this policy in practice via the increased focus on industrial policy. Yes there should be more funding and more coherence between agencies and policies, but the debate is already mostly settled about private sector investment needing to be complemented by government led investment.

    A federal Job (in singular) Guarantee would take a long time to implement, would be costly and bureaucratic to run, lead to allocation inefficiencies and potential employer abuse, much like every aspect of the current safety net programs. This is also the current experience with training programs (like WIA) and work requirements, as well as college funding. Good intentions, bad or mediocre outcomes.

    A federal Job Guarantee (mostly via the private sector) should be created for the (relatively small) population of the (very) long term unemployment (coupled with a reformed job training system and Pell grants program).

    The long term unemployed population expands during long periods of recession, so it is important to take this into account for eligibility purposes in policy design, so that the definition of “long term” is flexible in order for enough people to be covered, but not those that don’t really need a lot of assistance.

    The long term unemployed could also get an employment preference similar to that received -but subordinate- to the one veterans receive (if long term is defined correctly, this system couldn’t be easily abused).

    Government also needs to invest more in relocation assistance and in reforming housing policy so that housing benefits can be retained when people move, instead of becoming an incentive trap in poorer communities.

    For the majority of the working class, instead of a Job Guarantee, there are alternative components to getting the lower class and lower middle class back to a decent standard of living. Collectively they would be costly, but they are necessary and feasible if implemented gradually in the long term.

    A key difference is that these costs could be passed on to the private sector without a need for direct tax increases. With low unemployment, the argument against this has become increasingly weak. In the context of onshoring for domestic supply chain security, the global competitiveness argument has also become weaker.

    The components of a decent standard of living agenda are currently discussed by Democrats as separate policy parts, when they deserve to be treated and explained as a coherent agenda to close the gap in quality of living between the lower working classes and the upper working classes.

    Apart from a higher minimum wage (which should in no case be a national one, but rather both regional and differentiated between urban, suburban and rural areas), these components would include:

    Employer paid measures

    1. Cracking down on the misclassification of employees as contractors

    2. Overtime pay (wage theft is rampant due to new technologies extending the working day and due to the overclassification of regular employees as exempt employees)

    3. Paid sick leave

    4. Paid vacation leave

    5. Paid maternity leave

    6. Paid paternity leave

    7. Paid family leave

    Government subsidized measures

    8. Reform the Earned Income Tax Credit so that Single Adults receive more than nominal benefits

    9. Expanded Unemployment benefits (taking into account the Covid experience) for atypical workers and preempting individual state policy+reformed Relocation assistance+reformed Housing assistance (as discussed above and below)

    10. Completely rethinking training programs, specially for older adults (including those that didn’t finish degrees or who want to change careers -people essentially ignored by the current Pell Grant system-)

    11. Automatic enrollment in health insurance (instead of the current system of people having to figure out what the best and cheapest option for them is)

    12. Reform the marriage penalty and benefits cliff/work penalties for safety net programs

    13. Expanded retirement/Social Security benefits

    14. Care for younger children (beyond preschool and day care) as schools and daycares have very inflexible working hours for parents with atypical jobs

    15. Care for older adults (specially for non-institutionalized ones) as nursing homes and assisted living communities mostly cater to full time and wealthier clients

    In addition, the federal government should become a model employer when it comes to the provision of high quality jobs that are either part time and/or can be performed remotely. It is incredible that government actually lags behind the private sector on this, thereby excluding populations like working parents and people with disabilities from job opportunities for no reason other than inertia.


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