If you were a Democratic political strategist with a multi-million dollar budget for opinion research about the white working class, which question would you want to investigate?
- How can Democrats convince the white working class to vote Democratic?
- How can Democrats identify a distinct, persuadable sector of the white working class and then convince members of that specific group to vote Democratic?
The second question is obviously far more practical and more likely to lead to useful political strategies than the first. After all, in 2008 rough estimates suggest that around 40% of less than college white voters voted Democratic. This then declined to around 36% in 2012, 31% in 2016 and then rebounded slightly to 33% in 2020. Other more precise definitions of the term “working class” produce a somewhat higher but still similar pattern of results
If Democrats could simply regain the white working class vote share that they won in 2008, this would be adequate to win many elections that Dems now loose. As a result it is not necessary for Democrats to try to win a large majority of all white working class voters and certainly not to try to win passionate Trump supporters. It is just necessary to regain perhaps 10-15% of the white working class vote that once voted Democratic and now goes Republican.
The problem, however, is that virtually the entire Democratic strategic discussion in the media today asks the first question above rather than the second.
One dramatic example is the current debate about the white working class versus a “new” coalition of People of Color and pro-Democratic college educated whites. The debate, which has flowed from the New York Times, The Atlantic and the New Republic to a range of progressive blogs, Substacks and other media, has pitted leading political data analysts like Nate Cohn, Ron Brownstein, Tom Edsall, Ruy Teixeira, David Shor and others against various advocates of the “new coalition” strategy.
From Democracy Corps:
A sweeping nationwide study of working class voters shows Democrats can gain at the ballot box by emphasizing popular economic policies that help families thrive and make big corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share in taxes.
The interim findings, released at a critical juncture in the Build Back Better legislative debate, result from a cross-racial project of Democracy Corps, Equis Labs, and HIT Strategies, supported by funding from the American Federation of Teachers.
The research points to an effective strategy for President Biden and Democrats to corral voter support and raise enthusiasm and turnout ahead of pivotal midterm elections that could shape the future of the country for decades to come.
Black, Hispanic, Asian American and Pacific Islander voters prioritize, above all, policies that make their families materially better off and tip the balance of power to working people and away from the biggest corporations who call the shots. They are united behind labor protections starting with federal contractors paying $15 an hour; expanding Medicare and maintaining insurance subsidies that lower premiums; the child tax credit; and infrastructure jobs. They prioritize corporations finally paying their fair share of taxes.
“To be successful Democrats need to focus on making families’ lives better through the eyes of the multi-racial working class,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “The study shows by creating good jobs and economic mobility we can demonstrate that a better life and a vibrant democracy is both achievable and a bulwark against right-wing authoritarians threatening to tear our country apart.
“This study comes at a crucial moment for Congress and I hope lawmakers take these insights seriously and use them to champion the working class who are sick and tired of being sick and tired and increasingly think their country and its institutions have failed them.”
The group conducted a battleground web survey with all registered voters, concentrating on the white working class (those without a four-year college degree). EquisLabs conducted an online survey with Hispanic registered voters in eleven states, with Texas and Florida heavily represented. HIT Strategies conducted an online survey with Black registered voters in ten battleground states and a mixed-mode survey with Asian and Pacific Islanders in Orange County, CA. The surveys were completed in late July and August.
While racial equity is a top tier issue for Blacks and immigration reform is crucial for key segments of the Hispanic community, they share a desire for working people to have tangible relief and more power at a time when the top one percent has tightened its grip on the nation’s economic levers. “At a time where Black voters are growing impatient with what they perceive as a lack of progress on their top issue priorities, Build Back Better addresses many of their economic concerns with an emphasis on equity that President Biden and Democrats promised during the 2020 election,” said Terrance Woodbury, CEO and founding partner at HIT Strategies.
Stephanie Valencia, Co-Founder of Equis Research and Equis Labs, a polling and innovation hub focused on studying and reaching Latino voters, stated, “What keeps a majority of Latinos on the Democratic side is that they believe Democrats care more about people like them while Republicans favor the rich and big corporations. The danger for Democrats is when that feeling of ‘cares about us’ doesn’t translate into action of ‘delivers for us.’ Whether it is on the economy or immigration, Dems are then open to the attack that they’re taking our votes for granted. To bounce back from the shift we saw in 2020, Democrats are going to need to become the party of action again and deliver results for Latinos that they can feel in their everyday lives.”
“Nationwide, Asian-American and Pacific Islander voters saw a 71 percent increase in turnout in 2020 in part to repudiate the Trump agenda but also to stand for much-needed action on economic and COVID-19 recovery. At this time, AAPI voters in key swing districts in Orange County feel that Democrats aren’t doing enough to address their key issues, and we could see a decline in turnout in 2022. That could be the margin in some of the closest races around the country,” said Roshni Nedungadi, COO and founding partner of HIT Strategies.
One of the most important findings was the discovery that the Democrats’ diverse base and persuadable working class voters have similar priorities for government. A key driver is the popularity of the new expanded Child Tax Credit that is very important to parents and white working class voters under 50 years of age.
Communities remain worried about crime and support messages that favor funding and respecting the police, while also ensuring abusive officers will be held accountable for their actions.
These shared priorities come from recognizing the Democrats’ base is overwhelmingly working class. Fully 70 percent of Black voters in HIT’s battleground survey did not have a four-year degree; even more, 75 percent in EquisLabs’ battleground states. Two-thirds of millennials/Gen Z, 69 percent of unmarried women and 57 percent of white unmarried women also lack a four-year degree.
Stanley Greenberg, founder of Democracy Corps with James Carville, said, “I guess, it’s the working class, stupid! They need to be seen. They need to hear we want change. We need to deliver the transformative change before the Congress and level the playing field.”