Puncturing Myths about the White Working Class

by John Sides on September 23, 2012 · 6 comments

in Campaigns and elections,Public opinion

A new survey and report from the Public Religion and Research Institute—entitled “Beyond God and Guns”—is a valuable corrective to so many stereotypes of the white working class.  Particularly noteworthy in this report are the large and important differences within the white working class—by age, region, gender, and party, to name a few. For example, consider this:

In mid-August, Romney held a commanding 40-point lead over Obama among white working-class voters in the South (62% vs. 22%). However, neither candidate held a statistically significant lead among white working-class voters in the West (46% Romney vs. 41% Obama), Northeast (42% Romney vs. 38% Obama), or the Midwest (36% Romney vs. 44% Obama).

The report amplifies some of the findings I discussed in my “zombie” post—not only how different the white working class is within and outside the South, but how much more social issues affect the political choices of the white college-educated more than the white working class.

Along with Tom Edsall, I provided some comments on the report at a PRRI event last week.  One irony struck me.  In my experience, the white working class gets a ton of attention, especially when elections come around.  It probably gets more attention that it deserves—particularly since its diversity means it’s that hardly a monolithic voting bloc and since there are lots of ways to build a winning electoral coalition in American politics with varying degrees of support from the white working class.

But when we discuss the white working class during elections, another fact rarely raises its head: the enormous inequalities in political voice that arguably marginalize the white working class when it comes to policy-making.  These inequalities are evident in Martin Gilens’ research, as well as the important new book The Unheavenly Chorus, by Kay Schlozman, Sidney Verba, and Henry Brady.  Political participation remains highly stratified by social class and, moreover, only the views of the upper class appear to affect whether policies are enacted in law.

So the problem isn’t that the white working class is trending Republican or that it votes against its economic interests or that it’s being hoodwinked by social issues.  The the problem is that no matter what the white working class thinks, no one is listening.


realoldguy September 24, 2012 at 6:14 pm

No one is interested in what the white working class has to say because they’re only repeating the crap they hear on the teevee.

Peter Dworkin September 24, 2012 at 11:15 pm

You are obviously not interested in what they have to say because your remark proves you don’t talk to them. Tant pis, you miss the Huck Finns with your elitist attitude.

Lee September 25, 2012 at 3:35 am

No one is listening to the white working class because they vote against their economic interests.

Umlud September 25, 2012 at 6:35 pm

I dug into the numbers a little bit. If we assume that Obama won’t get any Southern electoral college votes and Romney won’t get any Northeast electoral college votes, then we can look at the “toss-up” regions of the West and the Midwest. Doing a very rough population-weighted analysis of these two regions, we can then say that – in toss-up regions – Obama and Romney pull very similarly among White voters: 42% for Obama and 40% for Romney. (There are just more Whites in the Midwest than there are in the West, which is why Obama has a slight edge.)

However, this sort of analysis COMPLETELY goes against the narrative in the press. It also involves doing math and recognizing that you can – for cold electoral reasons – throw out the perspectives of Whites in the South – where Romney will get almost all electoral college votes – and the Northeast – where Obama will get almost all electoral college votes – so I can see why reporters would be loath to actually do that kind of analysis.

evodevo September 26, 2012 at 12:22 pm

There is another aspect, too. Where I live, in small town Ky., a great number of white working class males are not registered to vote, and do not vote. For a lot of the more paranoid ones, they think if they are registered, “The Man” can find them more easily to extract child support, serve them warrants, tax them, collect back rent or unpaid bills, or whatever. Out of my 4 co-workers, 1 hasn’t voted in the 10 years she has been there, and neither has her ex. and I find this typical. Extrapolate that to the general pop. and you can see the problem.

George Greene September 22, 2013 at 8:13 pm

This is just utter lies. The fact that the white working class votes Republican in Dixie means that Republicans WIN in Dixie. Those Republicans ARE listening to the white working class because THAT IS WHO PUT THEM in office! Listening to them and telling them what THEY WANT to hear is HOW THEY STAY in office!
So it is just plain NOT the case that “no one is listening”.

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