Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Hi It's Stupid: White Working Class edition

Cooperative Congressional Election Study 2016.

Hi, it's Stupid to say there's no such thing in the United States as "the white working class", but there's an elegant new way of saying it, from Thomas B. Edsall, the New York Times columnist so colorless that nobody even knows whether they hate him or not, but I often kind of like him, when I remember to take a look, as in this case, where it's right in the headline: "There Are Really Two Distinct White Working Classes".

The idea, which is drawing on polling for the AFL-CIO that I think I don't have access to, is that when you look at the polling category of white people without college degrees (standing in for the hopelessly ill-defined "white working class" category), which would be an enormous group if it was in fact a bloc, from 48% to 54% (see above chart) of the electorate, they are very sharply divided by political behavior, around 40% of them being Democrats or Democrat leaners, and about 50% Republicans or Republican leaners (the leaners being pretty small groups on both sides), with the balance being true independents.

They're also distinct in other demographic ways, as you might expect. The non-college white Democrats are a lot younger, twice as many of them under 38 or so as the Republicans, and a lot more female (59%-41%, as opposed to 51%-49%). They are markedly less Christian, and less evangelical/born-again in particular. Edsall doesn't give any figures for income, but I think these factors make it obvious that the Democrats have a good deal less money, and from there I would speculate, on lines I've talked about before, that the non-college white Democrats are much more likely to be low-level employees, while non-college white Republicans are the ones who have mastered the art of getting rich without a college degree, the proprietors of small or tiny businesses. Hold that thought for a few minutes.

Edsall is most interested, inevitably, in the handicapping issues and the question of what Democrats "need to do", policy-wise, centrism vs. socialism, Biden vs. Anybody-But-Biden, and so on, in an electorate that is overall so very closely divided that every vote matters more than usual:
Perhaps most important, the white non-college Republican and Democratic constituencies differ radically on policy and political beliefs.
Take favorability ratings of Obamacare, Black Lives Matter and Medicare for all. Among working class white Democrats, the ratings are uniformly positive, according to AFL-CIO data: 89 percent, 80 percent and 85 percent. Among their white Republican counterparts, the ratings are uniformly dismal: 5 percent, 9 percent and 18 percent.
What this data shows is that Democrats should have little trouble retaining the support of members of the white working class who identify as Democrats, but they will struggle mightily to win over their Republican counterparts.
There are a couple of important internal points in there. To me, it's not a significant policy question whether you back a reformed Obamacare or M4A, because they're most likely to end up with pretty much the same system, and this Democratic cohort seems to feel the same way; they're not afraid of something that looks like socialism, but their backs aren't put up by the less radical-sounding alternative, so if the party decides for some other political reason to go with one or the other, it won't have a bad effect on these voters. On Black Lives Matter, it's clear that these white people aren't the "WWC" all the pundits believe are secret racists who will vote Republican if their white prejudices aren't catered to.

That's not quite true for the independents in the category:
The survey asked, for example, whether voters agree or disagree with the statement “Social and economic problems in this country are largely due to individuals across races and origins refusing to work and expecting handouts.”
All Democrats, including white non-college Democratic respondents, took liberal stands, sharply disagreeing with the statement by 62 points (78-16) and 56 points (76-20). Independent voters in the white working class were in favor by 11 percentage points (52-41), and Republican respondents were solidly in agreement, by 72 points (84-12).
And this is taken to back Edsall's view (or Speaker Pelosi's view as Edsall represents it) that the campaign safer on economic issues, even with fairly radical positions, than social ones:
On health care and economic matters, there is far more overlap between the views of Democrats as a whole and independent white working class voters.
Support for a tax on wealth in excess of $100 million tops 90 percent among Democrats, while white working class independents support such a proposal 59-25.
That may well be, though I just don't think Democrats can allow themselves to backtrack on intersectional issues, because that's the emotional party, not just for minority voters but for the young. It might be an argument for emphasizing a symbolic approach to race, as we did by nominating Obama and could do again by nominating Kamala Harris or Julián Castro, and letting the policy discussion slide a little. The results in 2008 left Obama with little ability to actually do anything about race, though.

What I'd especially like to say for myself is to plead once again for a different picture altogether, which the AFL-CIO numbers seem to provide additional evidence for, in which the "white working class" disappears as a concept altogether.

Rather, people without college degrees in the US divide naturally into a multiracial working class, natural Democrats of progressive economic and cultural views, who might amount to 40% of the total population (Edsall's non-college white Democrats plus all the non-college non-whites), and the ill-educated branch of an overwhelmingly white petit-bourgeois class dominated by Republicans, around 27% of the electorate. This working class, added to the Democrats with college degrees, really ought to amount to a working majority (and does, on the whole, except for the ways gerrymandering and the Electoral College, and lively voter suppression in some states, skew the results). Democrats need to start with the understanding that we really do have a majority, and not work so hard to scrabble for every vote from people who hate us (as opposed to the habitual nonvoters who put us over the top in 2008 and 2012). Victory can be put together in a more appealing way.

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