Why Democrats Still Need Working-Class White Voters (And How To Get Them)

(Credit: Rick Bowmer)

Andrew Levison and I just published a lengthy article in The New Republic discussing why the Democrats need to do better among white working class voters and how they can do it. You can read the whole article here but here’s the core of it:

In the months since the 2012 elections it has become apparent that the victorious Democratic coalition Obama assembled is still not sufficiently large to overcome the unprecedented Republican obstruction and sabotage of the normal processes of American political life.

Although long-term demographic trends, such as the increase in minority voters and the rise of the Millennial generation, are favorable for the Democrats, translating those trends into true political and electoral dominance will remain difficult so long as Democrats rely on simply turning out core Obama coalition voters. Their margins will be too thin and subject to backlash, especially below the Presidential level.

To create a stable Democratic majority, Democrats need to win the support of a significant group of voters who are now part of the Republican coalition. As the 2012 elections demonstrated, the group that has perhaps the greatest potential in this regard is the white working class.

One thing we didn’t have space for in the article was any discussion of which parts of the white working class would likely be most open to Democratic efforts at outreach, grass roots and otherwise. Possibly the most important group here is white working class women. White working class women tend to be much more open than their male counterparts to a moderate role for government, especially in terms of providing a social safety net, and to be less reflexive in their social conservatism. This is shown by their relative lack of enthusiasm for Romney in the 2012 election.

Romney gains among white working-class voters in 2012 were driven almost entirely by gains among white working-class men. McCain’s overall advantage in 2008 was 59 percent to 39 percent (20 points) with this demographic, which Romney improved to 64 percent to 33 percent (31 points). In contrast, Romney’s advantage among white working-class women was 20 points (59 percent to 39 percent), up just 3 points from McCain’s 17-point margin in 2008 (58 percent to 41 percent). Romney’s inability to make substantial gains among white working-class women was central to his failure to run up large enough margins among the white working class overall to win the election.

The other group that should be mentioned is white working class Millennials. They are far more liberal on social issues than older cohorts of the white working class and strikingly less hostile to the federal government. In 2012, Obama ran a modest 9 point deficit (43-52) among white working class 18-29 year olds, compared to his 25 point deficit among the white working class as a whole.

White working class women and Millennials: It is here Democrats will find the most “persuadables” and have the best chance of success. And, as we explain in our article, if Democrats start the hard work of reaching these voters in their communities, success is definitely within their grasp. Indeed, the biggest obstacle to Democratic success at this point is Democrats’ fear of trying.