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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

At Deseret News, Hanna Seariac probes for answers to a question of much political interest: “Is either political party the home of working-class voters?” As Seariac writes, “according to a new poll from Gallup. Forty-six percent of Republicans consider themselves working or lower class and 35% of Democrats do. Sixty-two percent of Democrats identify themselves as upper-middle or middle class and 53% of Republicans say the same.” Class identification does not necessarily tell you how people are going to vote in a crazy political year like 2024. But, in this case, it does shed some light on political leanings. As Seariac explains, “The survey data comes from self-identification, not factors like education level or profession or income. Economic experts differ on the specifics of what qualifies as working class, but generally, it refers to people who do not have college educations (around 62% of the country) and/or those who receive an hourly wage rather than a salary….Gallup survey data started showing this shift in 2022. When the same survey was done in 2019, 46% of Democrats identified as working or lower class while only 34% of Republicans did. In contrast, 65% of Republicans called themselves upper-middle or middle class and 54% of Republicans did. Self-identification has fluctuated along those lines, but from 2002 to 2019, Republicans generally identified more as upper-middle and middle class more than Democrats did — the reverse was true for Democrats calling themselves working and lower class at a higher rate than Republicans.” Nor does class self i.d. tell us why working-class voters feel an affinity for one party of. the other. Seariac notes further, “Left-of-center think tank Progressive Policy Institute did a survey with YouGov about the politics of the working-class voters (defined in the report as those without four-year college degrees). The report found that the working class trusts Republicans more on the economy, natural security, immigration and crime while they trust Democrats more on climate change, clean energy, abortion access and respecting elections.”

Seariac adds, “Forty-seven percent of the working class said they want a federal government involved in the economy mostly via protecting free markets while 34% said they want a small federal government with less taxation and spending. Nineteen percent responded in favor of a large federal government involved in wealth distribution….As far as which party the working class trusts to put the interests of the working class people first, respondents were almost evenly divided — 38% said Democrats and 37% said Republicans. Twenty-two percent of respondents said neither….A plurality of respondents to the survey also said they would prefer if the Democratic Party would spend tax dollars more efficiently rather than grow government programs. As for what they want the Republican Party to do, they said they’d like if the GOP would cut spending and increase taxes on the wealthy….Among those surveyed, 50% said their household income was less than $50,000 annually and 27% said it was between $50,000 and $100,000 with the remainder either not marking prefer not to say or reporting a household income above $100,000….“In the short term, the political preferences of working-class voters are likely to be shaped by urgent issues such as high prices and illegal immigration,” wrote William A. Galston for Brookings Institute about the survey. “In the longer term, however, a party that combines moderation on cultural issues with support for government programs that would improve the prospects of upward mobility for the working class would likely improve its performance in this key part of the electorate.”….Galston also pointed toward specific policies that some members of the working class have taken issues with such as student loan forgiveness. Fifty-six percent of working-class voters said they oppose student loan debt relief because they think it’s unfair to those who don’t get a college degree….“I think the claim that says the Republican Party is the party of the working class is at best, insincere, and more likely, political misdirection and rebranding exercises,” John Russo, visiting scholar at the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University, told NPR in 2021. He pointed toward Biden winning the majority of voters earning less than $50,000 a year in 2020 and Trump winning the majority of voters who made more than $100,000 annually….Others point toward areas where the working class may poll differently than what the messaging from Democratic politicians sounds like. Ruy Teixeira, fellow at American Enterprise Institute, wrote for The Liberal Patriot that working-class voters are less ideological, have economic struggles and in his words are “more focused on material concerns.”

Some useful talking points for Dems regarding “Here’s What Trump and the GOP Really Think About the Working Class: Trump polls very well with voters without college degrees. But organized labor polls well with even more voters. Make a move, Democrats” by Timothy Noah at The New Republic: “….Democrats need to get word out that the GOP is bent on destroying unions, which today enjoy more popular support (67 percent approval) than they have for six decades. Even more than one-third of Republicans agree that labor unions are a net positive for the country.” Trump “appointed anti-union members to the National Labor Relations Board who made it easier for employers to manipulate the size of a bargaining unit to defeat a union bid; lengthened and complicated union elections to make it harder for unions to win; made it easier for corporations to avoid responsibility for their subcontractors’ labor violations; and allowed employers to prevent labor unions, which already are barred from electioneering on company premises, from contacting workers via company email….Trump also changed overtime rules to exclude eligibility for eight million workers; failed to raise the $7.25 hourly minimum wage (after promising to do so during the 2016 election, though only in reaction to a backlash after he proposed eliminating it entirely); killed a regulation barring employers from requiring employees to agree never to sue the company as a condition of employment; reduced the number of manufacturing jobs by 75,000 (losing 43,000 the year before the Covid epidemic); and cut federal workplace safety inspections to their lowest level in history. This is very much a partial list. There’s more here and here….More representative of what “Trump’s economic circles” think is Trump’s own think tank. The America First Policy Institute is chaired by Linda McMahon, who ran the Small Business Administration under Trump and then a pro-Trump super PAC. She posted an op-ed last June at The Daily Caller that attacked Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer for signing into law a repeal of the state’s right-to-work law. This law had barred unions from collecting “fair share” fees from union nonmembers….The nonprofit group In Union and the political strategist Mike Lux this week released a reportnoting that among working-class voters, a “considerable” number are “double haters” (that is, they hate both Biden and Trump), third-party curious, or undecided. “Most of them voted Democratic in the recent past,” Lux wrote. “These are prime and winnable Democratic targets, and we should focus a great deal of firepower on winning them over.”

Some observations from “Will Trump Leaners Come Home to Biden? The weirdness of this year’s polling gives the President’s team hope.” by James Joyner at outsidethebeltwaay.com: “President Joe Biden trails Donald Trump by approximately one point in national polls, according to FiveThirtyEight. The gap is larger in most of the so-called swing states, including Pennsylvania (2.1 per cent), Arizona (4.3 per cent), Georgia (6.1 per cent), and Nevada (seven per cent). Moreover, in both 2016 and 2020, most polls ended up understating Trump’s support. This year, the head-to-head polls and Biden’s unpopularity have made many Democrats anxious about the coming election, but that feeling does not appear to have pervaded the White House. Axios reported last week that, “in public and private, Biden has been telling anyone who will listen that he’s gaining ground—and is probably up—on Donald Trump in their rematch from 2020.” (The Axios story says this sense of optimism is also shared by his “team.”)….even aside from the possibility of cataclysmic events shaking up the landscape, it’s almost impossible to project a race where both candidates are so universally unpopular. There are more truly enthusiastic Trump voters than truly enthusiastic Biden voters. But there are also more people who intensely dislike Trump than intensely dislike Biden….Think about those with little if any partisan or ideological predisposition. They may have real doubts and concerns about Trump’s character, behavior, values, and perhaps whether he has much respect for institutions and the rule of law. Substantively, only the abortion issue really rises to the surface for many of these people….Conversely, doubts and concerns about Biden are more about his abilities and his judgment, his priorities and objectives. Most don’t doubt Biden’s morals, values, and intentions, but do wonder whether this has been the cruise they signed up for. Just as abortion is the substantive chink in the armor for Trump, it is age and health for Biden, who looks and acts even older than he is….We have a group of voters who are not enthusiastic about either candidate, and many may well end up deciding not to decide. In some minds, not casting a ballot is becoming a very real and deliberate option, a way to show their displeasure with their choices and the nominees that the two parties have offered up. They look at the field of independent or third-party candidates and do not see a political knight in shining armor worthy of their support.”

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