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Déjà Vu: Liberals Still Don't Get That They Need These Folks to Win Elections

AP Photo/Loren Elliott

It's déjà vu. After the 2016 election, what was the one key voter bloc Hillary Clinton needed to do better to beat Donald Trump? It was white working-class voters in rural America. This massive voter group numbers in the tens of millions, where slight changes can make or break a campaign. Hillary lost these voters to Trump by a three-to-one margin. If she had only lost two-to-one, she would have been elected president of the United States. In the aftermath of one of the most stunning upsets in modern American political history, Democrats could have focused their energies on reconnecting with these people. Instead, they decided to double-down on college-educated whites in urban areas, nonwhite voters, and the coasts. With 2022 looking dismal, some Democrats are trying to strike that populist tone again. FiveThirtyEight had a lengthy post on why they're going to fail.


The electoral shift here is not by design. Republicans are a bit lucky. In 2010, folks like Salena Zito saw a neo-populist surge coming after the Tea Party wave. These folks could have flocked to either Democrats or Republicans. The path these voters took to the GOP is primarily a cultural one than solely based on economics which is what FiveThirtyEight further elaborates. 

There's a reason why Trump shot up to the top of the 2016 candidate pile. He spoke about immigration, a border wall, and deporting criminal aliens. After years of effete immigration enforcement from the political class, voters got some refreshing news seeing a punchy outsider declare that he would get the border under control. Also, Trump was speaking to the anxieties of white men in a changing America. 

I'm not saying they're racist. Liberal outlets often make that insinuation, some subtlety, others rather explicitly. America is changing. Some folks are adapting better than others. It makes things worse when an entire political party decides to brand you as KKK members en masse and shift all their energies on making the lives of anyone who is nonwhite better at your expense. That's how these feel—and do you blame them? 

The Democrats are amid this BIPOC, woke, unhinged, and utterly gross stage of their evolution. It's a party devoted to people of color and women. Still, those calling the shots are college-educated whites who are more ideologically rigid than the nonwhite cohorts they claim to fight for daily. That's like having men in the leadership of the National Organization of Women. And speaking of women, the party that champions itself as the defenders of the female sex is doing all it can to erase them by allowing biological males to takeover women's sports. These antics, plus the pervasive America-bashing, make the cultural divide crystal clear and why these voters have flocked to the GOP tent (via FiveThirtyEight):


What’s clear from the two parties’ approaches is that Republicans mainly think of the working class as a cultural and racial identity, and not an economic one. Democrats, to be sure, are also leaning into a cultural appeal when they pitch themselves to working-class voters — primarily a populist appeal bent on uniting the working class against corporate greed — but it is still rooted more in economics than any national culture-war issue.

One struggle for Democrats in this messaging war is that cultural and ethnic identities have traditionally mattered more to Americans than class identity. “America is the only country that never had a mass socialist movement or a really successful labor movement on the level of even Canada, much less Europe,” said David Brady, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Riverside. “So I think that America has a sort of skittishness or reluctance to embrace its social class solidarity.” Americans are somewhat divided on class politics: Most say unions have had a positive effect on American life, but many are also skeptical of socialism.

Democrats, the hard truth is that you still need white men to win. Obama, a black man, could clinch two presidential elections because he did decently with white working-class whites. He didn't win this group over his GOP rivals, but he did well enough to impact the margins. What you hear from Democrats today is whining, ranting, and screaming. They're people who are unrelatable in almost every way. 


Part of the problem for Democrats is that since Trump’s election, the definition of “working class” — already a squishy term — has largely come to be defined as people who haven’t graduated from college, especially when it refers to white people. The issue with this definition is that it constitutes the vast majority of Americans: Only about a third of adults in the country over the age of 25 hold a bachelor’s degree, including about 36 percent of white, non-Hispanic people.

For instance, while it’s generally true that not having a college degree leads to lower average earnings than having one, that broad assessment is not always true. (The amount a college degree pays off also varies by race and gender.) It misses groups like small-business owners, who may not have gone to college but whose incomes vary widely. In fact, some blue-collar workers, like those employed in the natural gas industry, might have upper-middle-class income levels. In these cases, the economic threats they often see are from Democrats to their industries, not to their own finances, which is why messaging about the government’s role in helping struggling families can fall flat with them. 


“If you have enough money to buy a truck and have enough money to feed your family and have a four-person house, you’re certainly not struggling,” said Daniel Laurison, a sociologist at Swarthmore College. But Republicans and Trump, according to Laurison, have used confusion around class to their advantage. “Being a white person without a college degree makes you a ‘regular guy,’” said Laurison. “It doesn’t make you economically disadvantaged.”


Yet there’s still a tendency, especially among college-educated, urban workers, to assume that those kinds of cultural differences indicate a different class position and that it’s rural voters’ class position — not their cultural attitudes — driving their votes. 

But this takes it as a given that the long-term trends in economic outcomes, which have affected many Americans, are what Trump’s voters are responding to. This line of thinking, though, ignores other changes in American life and politics, such as an increase in global trade, a shift toward knowledge work instead of blue-collar labor, a relatively new emphasis on sending students to college and a more expansive view of rights and equalities for racial, ethnic and gender minorities. 

These rifts in the kind of work that people do, the lives they live, who their neighbors are and what they think is important are what the educational divide might be picking up as much as income.


I'm glad liberal data scientist David Shor is quoted in the piece because he's been telling what the Left doesn't want to hear for years. He noted that liberals used to be great at messaging and coming up with policies that had broad appeal. The Green New Deal is not that in the slightest. He also warned that woke whites dominating the party's agenda-setting at the expense of rank-and-file Democrats who are nonwhite could have disastrous consequences. Defunding the police is not popular with average voters. It is the crack cocaine of social policy with woke college-educated whites. This aversion to uphold public safety standards has some nonwhite voters, specifically Latino and Asian voters, voting for Republicans. 

In the end, the GOP understands the cultural aspects of this voter bloc which is why they're probably going to run the table with them. At the same time, Democrats were just too slow to realize they picked electoral suicide with some of the messaging strategies. It's odd since culture is one area where the GOP was painfully behind liberals for years. Then again, your message,' I hate white people, be 'woke,' biological males are women, and let's get naked in front of young children at pride parades,' becomes your cultural bugle—don't expect to curry a mass appeal. These white working-class voters know that, which is why these Democratic Party attempts to court these voters for the midterms will fail.


Also, I do like how the piece does touch on the education gap among voters. The publication also added that while Democrats lament the glory days of the working class being their backbone—that was also a time when liberals pushed such policies that predominately helped white men during the Great Depression with FDR’s New Deal programs. That’s not a good or bad thing. It’s what it was in the early 20th Century; the men went to work in more significant numbers. The Left may despise white guys for some reason, but you can’t be shocked that they joined the other party after you helped them along, had their backs, and then just abandoned them because some college-educated snobs thought it was the trendy thing to do.

The Left tried to do some significant surgery with their base during and after the Obama years. It’s not worked out well. Biden won because the election occurred during COVID. Do you think he’d beat Trump under normal campaign conditions? Nope. Especially with what we’ve seen now from this White House. Biden’s approvals are trash, and members of his party are popping Tums over the prospect of him running for re-election.

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