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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Teixeira: Swing-State, Working-Class Blues

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, politics editor of The Liberal Patriot newsletter and co-author with John B. Judis of the new Book “Where Have All the Democrats Gone?,” is cross-posted from The Liberal Patriot:

“I’ve got those mean old swing-state, working-class blues!” I wouldn’t exactly recommend this as the Democrats’ campaign theme song, but it would encapsulate a lot of what appears to be happening to them these days.

A run of national polls have had Biden losing to Trump but, even worse, so have a number of swing-state polls. The latest are of Michigan and Georgia by CNN. In the former, Biden is behind by 10 points; in the latter, he is trailing by 5 points. Peering into the crosstabs, it is clear that Biden’s woes in these states have a lot to do with declining support among working-class voters. Let’s review some of the relevant data, starting with Michigan.

Michigan. In CNN’s Michigan poll, Trump is ahead by 21 points among working-class (noncollege) voters, while Biden is ahead by 10 points among college-educated voters. But Michigan is an overwhelmingly working-class state—according to States of Change projections, Michigan should be around 71 percent working-class eligible voters in 2024—so this a very unfavorable pattern for the Democrats.

Compared to Biden’s successful effort in 2020, the fall off in working-class support suggested here is precipitous. According to States of Change data, Biden lost these voters by a mere 2 points in 2020, so the current deficit of 21 points represents a massive 19-point swing against him. In contrast, the college-educated swing against him in the CNN poll looks quite small: a 12-point advantage among these voters in 2020, compared to a 10-point advantage now.

Other findings from the poll underscore the hole Biden is in among the state’s working-class voters. On whether Biden’s policies have improved or worsened economic conditions in the country, 60 percent of Michigan working-class voters think his policies have worsened conditions, three times more than the 20 percent who believe his policies have improved them.

The poll asked voters about several characteristics and whether Biden and Trump had exactly the characteristics they would like to see in a president, close enough or not what you want in a president. On Biden, 61 percent of Michigan working-class voters say his policy positions on major issues are not what they would like to see in a president. Worse, 65 percent of these voters believe Biden’s ability to understand the problems of people like them is not what they want in a president. And worse yet, 72 percent say Biden’s “sharpness and stamina” isn’t what they’d like to see in a president. In contrast, strong majorities of Michigan’s working-class voters see Trump’s major policy positions, his ability to understand the problems of people like them, and his sharpness and stamina as exactly what they’d like to see in a president, or close enough.

Biden is wont to wave away his troubles by saying: “Don’t compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative.” When it comes to working-class voters in Michigan, that is not a comparison at present that does much to mitigate his problems.

Georgia. In CNN’s Georgia poll, Trump is ahead by 14 points among working-class voters, while Biden is ahead by 7 points among college-educated voters. Georgia too is an overwhelmingly working-class state, likely around 67 percent working-class eligible voters in the next election, putting the Democrats in a very poor position.

In 2020, Biden lost Georgia working-class voters by just 6 points, so his current 14-point deficit is an 8-point swing against him. But his current 7-point lead among the college-educated is only 3 points less than his lead among these voters in 2020. As in Michigan, working-class defections are driving the move away from Biden to Trump.

It’s worth noting that, while CNN does not supply breaks for nonwhite working class voters, inspections of the internals of these polls indicates that in both states the swing away from Biden among nonwhite working-class voters is likely greater than the overall working-class swing.

The Georgia CNN poll has the same questions as the Michigan poll so it is possible to look at the same Biden evaluations. Georgia working-class voters are far more likely to think Biden’s policies have worsened economic conditions (58 percent) than improved them (22 percent). As for desired characteristics in a president, strong majorities of Georgia working-class voters see Biden as nothaving what they would like to see in a president on major policy positions, his ability to understand people like them and, especially, having the sharpness and stamina to do the job. With Trump, it’s exactly the reverse: on all three of these characteristics, strong majorities of Georgia’s working class see him as having exactly what they want in a president or close enough.

National. CNN also recently released an extensive national poll that sheds more light on Biden’s general working-class woes. Some key findings:

  1. Biden’s working-class approval rating on handling the economy is just 26 percent. Among the college-educated, in contrast, it’s a more respectable 43 percent.
  2. His approval rating on helping the middle class is a mere 28 percent among working-class voters. On handling crime, his rating, at 31 percent among these voters, is scarcely better.
  3. On which party is closer to voters’ views on issues, working-class voters favor Republicans over Democrats by 16 points on the economy. Intriguingly, the parties are essentially tied among Hispanics on this issue.
  4. On immigration, working-class voters prefer the GOP by 22 points. Even more intriguingly, Hispanics favor Republicans over Democrats by 6 points on the issue.
  5. Working-class voters also favor Republicans by 18 points on crime and policing, 12 points on America’s role in the world, 6 points on helping the middle class (!), and 4 points on education. The strongest area for the Democrats among these voters is abortion and even here they only have a single digit (8-point) lead, far less than their lead among the college-educated.
  6. Almost half (47 percent) of working-class voters are very worried that the cost of living will be too high for them to continue living in their current community. Another 32 percent are somewhat worried for a total of 79 percent.

Biden’s path to victory in 2024 of course goes through the key swing states everybody talks about. But people should realize that the path to victory in those swing states goes through the working-class voters in those states, voters among whom he has been losing critical support. He and his campaign will either fix this problem or they will lose. And then they—and the country—will really have those swing-state, working-class blues.

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