Campaigns and elections

“Blue-collar whites” as a Republican constituency?

Andrew Gelman Jul 3 '13

I received the following in the email:

I have been thinking about how some of the most conservative people I know and know of are wealthy whites (especially older white men) who made their wealth in businesses and industries that did not necessarily require a great deal of formal education. Self-employed “blue-collar” individuals, owners and managers of large farms, many “small business” owners, which includes franchise owners and contractors…my point being, a lot of these are occupations that one can potentially make a lot of money in, without having to have much formal education at all in many cases.

Might there be something of a cultural and socioeconomic identity that a lot of the working class whites who DO vote Republican share with their employers? For example, many of the local employers in many small cities and towns and rural parts of the country (where conservative Republicanism, as you know, is increasingly dominant) could also be described as “blue-collar” in that the businesses they own and manage require a lot of manual labor and not so much formal education.

I’d imagine many of these people—workers and employers alike—are similar in their educational backgrounds, their family backgrounds, their local history with the towns in which they grew up in, their religious backgrounds, and their overall attitudes toward society at large, which includes political views.

So my question is—what are your thoughts on this? Is there any data that you know of that points to people in certain occupations being more likely to vote for Republicans, or more likely to be from rural areas or small cities?

My reply:

Here are some data from the National Election Study showing trends in support for the Republican candidates for president (after subtracting off the national vote in each year) among different occupation groups. Indeed there have been changes during the past few decades. The income-and-voting correlation hasn’t changed much, but the mix of occupations supporting each party has changed:

Regarding income, education, and voting, we have found that, within each education class, the richer people are more likely to vote Republican. At the low end of education, the higher-income people include some of those successful blue-collar workers and business owners you mention. The high end of education includes relatively low-income professionals such as social workers who are likely to vote for Democrats.

In most groups of the population—-especially the more conservative and Republican groups—-richer people are more conservative. For example, military officers are much more conservative than military enlisted personnel.

Finally, I think “blue-collar” is a somewhat loaded term, in that is typically men, not women, whose jobs are categorized as blue collar, and men are more likely to vote Republican.