Thursday, August 29, 2019


Something I've been saying for quite a while now about the 2016 presidential election: that the Trump "base" isn't exactly like that pathetic picture of the bewildered "white working class" left behind by globalization. Yes, they're white and don't have college degrees, but the real core are financially pretty comfortable, typically owners of small businesses, with sufficient leisure to eat breakfast out every morning and give interviews to The New York Times pretending to represent the working class, while their abject and underpaid employees (who rarely vote at all) open the shops. That's who made the party what it is today, which is strangely similar to what it used to be, back when it was the party of the wealthy.

So now there's some relevant information, surfacing in the column of the Times opinionist nobody ever notices because he's too interested in reality, Thomas B. Edsall ("We Aren’t Seeing White Support for Trump for What It Is"), reporting research by Herbert Kitschelt and Philipp Rehm, and I can report that the numbers don't exactly support a strong version of the theory, but they do confirm that there's something there:
Kitschelt and Rehm found that the common assumption that the contemporary Republican Party has become crucially dependent on the white working class — defined as whites without college degrees — is overly simplistic.
Instead, Kitschelt and Rehm find that the surge of whites into the Republican Party has been led by whites with relatively high incomes — in the top two quintiles of the income distribution [$77,552 up] — but without college degrees, a constituency that is now decisively committed to the Republican Party.
Not that the relatively poor non-college whites didn't vote for Trump in 2016—they did, as they voted much less decisively for Romney in 2012—but that they're not "ardent" Republicans the way the rich ones are:
Individuals in the low-education/high-income group tend to endorse authoritarian noneconomic policies and tend to oppose progressive economic policies. Small business owners and shopkeepers — particularly in construction, crafts, retail, and personal services — as well as some of their salaried associates populate this group....
while those with low income
tend to support progressive economic policies and tend to endorse authoritarian policies on the noneconomic dimension. In occupational terms, this group consists primarily of low-skill and intermediate routine blue-collar manufacturing or clerical-administrative jobs (the ‘working class’)
and were persuaded by Trump's (extremely unreliable) promises not to cut Social Security and Medicare (and didn't apparently have a big problem with the racist rhetoric).

But less educated poorer white people are crucial to the Republicans' ability to win elections because there are more of them; 39.7% of the total white electorate, compared to 22% for the better-off non-college whites who control the party's stupid and anti-worker agenda. While the most loyal group of Democrats are those for whom a college education has not translated to a high income, who scarcely existed at all two generations ago but now constitute a bit over 14% of white voters, and the high-income highly-educated cohort, 26% of the electorate, has become massively Democratic in the last couple of decades. (In 1952, only about 8% of white voters had college degrees, and a large majority of those were Republicans, but it was easier to make good money without a degree, and those who did, 42% of the electorate, were the swing voters.)

What has happened, then, is a very broad realignment of white voters, from an income class base—Democrats used to be poor, Republicans used to be rich —to a cultural class base, in which white Democrats (in alliance with overwhelmingly Democratic nonwhite voters at all educational levels, who are now absolutely the heart and soul of the party as they say) are educated and Republicans (overwhelmingly white) are not, leading to the current division between a basically all-white and ill-educated party and an ethnically mixed party that includes highly educated people of all races.

Edsall is led by these considerations and a bunch of other data to the gloomy view that Democrats will have to cater somewhat to the racial anxieties of those non-college whites if we want to be sure of winning next year:
The 2020 election will be fought over the current loss of certainty — the absolute lack of consensus — on the issue of “race.” Fear, anger and resentment are rampant. Democrats are convinced of the justness of the liberal, humanistic, enlightenment tradition of expanding rights for racial and ethnic minorities. Republicans, less so. This may well prove to be a base-vs.-base election, but even so the outcome may lie in the hands of the substantial proportion of the electorate that is undecided — 7 percent according to Pew. And if Democrats want to give themselves the best shot of getting Trump out of the White House, it is toward these voters that they must make concerted efforts at pragmatic diplomacy and persuasion — and show a new level of empathy.
I think he is misleading himself a bit there, for a couple of reasons. First, the Kitschelt and Rehm thesis is that the poorer whites voted for Trump in such large numbers not, or not simply, because they thought he was more of a racist than Romney, but because they had decided that Trump was an economic liberal, who would protect the economic benefits white people get from government. To whatever extent that's true, they now know, or ought to know, they were wrong, and some of them unquestionably do.

The other big thing is my other big thing of nonvoters. In every national election in the United States, there will be some number of registered voters north of 35% who don't vote, and they're not always the same people. In fact it would be useful to assume they usually aren't, regardless of what the survey data say, because it can be proven that people lie a lot when they respond to these surveys (see above link).

So we know, for example, that minority voters in midwestern cities held back in 2016, for whatever reason (*cough* Russian Facebook *cough* might have had something to do with that), and didn't in 2018. Whereas guess which standout group declined in 2018:

Those, apparently, who were feeling the most disillusioned with politics that year. Let's make that pattern hold.

It seems obvious to me that a strategy founded on encouraging turnout in your group and discouraging it in their group has more potential than one founded on seducing people in the other group in a way that is certain to alienate everybody in your own, like trying to make the racists feel comfortable. Period.

Also, it just happens that somebody has been doing some research on nonvoters, at long last, and it seems they're interested in some Democratic policies:

(I'm not saying no kind of outreach could be made to Trump voters, but I think it should be focused on the young, and not with the message that it's OK to be a racist but that "we know you're not one of them, it's those old farts". But getting those nonvoters out, on the basis of policies like the Green New Deal and the free college Deo Trump horror, is more important.)

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