Democrats have not abandoned the white working class; though the white working class thinks they have

One of those rare occasions where I find myself largely disagreeing with Hans Noel.  He’s got a Mischiefs of Faction post arguing that, no matter the identity politics issues, Democrats have definitely not abandoned the white working class:

One item of growing consensus in the Democrats’ postmortem is that the party lost the white working class because the party is perceived to have abandoned them.

The perception is definitely real, and it may explain the outcome. But is it true that the party really has, as a matter of policy goals, ignored the working class?

Among the policies that the Democrats and President Obama enacted in the past eight years are:

In addition to these accomplishments, the party actively sought to do more, including:

These last attempts failed or were significantly diluted because Republicans, who have controlled the House of Representatives since 2011, did not like them. In an era of divided government, both parties get a say. Republicans can and did argue that these were bad policies, but it’s hard to look at the list and conclude that the Democrats have cozied up to the 1 percent…

The Clinton campaign could have done better in communicating [emphasis in original] these accomplishments and her goals for doing more if she were elected. Electoral politics is about campaigning as much as it is about policy. Clinton’s campaign focused on Trump’s character — and, by extension, on many policies of concern to women and people of color. But the economic policies were not the focus.

Together, these four points contribute to a sense that the party didn’t do enough for the white, especially rural working class. And that sense is very real. That’s a failure. But it’s very different from a party actually pivoting away from the working class…

If the white working class voted against Clinton because they think the Democratic Party sold them out, that is a reality, and the Democratic Party doesn’t get to pretend it isn’t so. But it is not a reality it can respond to by simply “returning” to something it never really stopped doing.

Good points.  And yet.  Obviously, Democrats never “abandoned” the white working class policy-wise.  But, it seems equally obvious that the wwc, does not feel represented by the Democratic party.  And that’s because, for most voters, politics is not about specific policies, but a story.  And Donald Trump convinced these voters (many of whom were already Republican for the cultural reasons we’ve discussed) of the story that he had their backs, he was looking out for their interests, he understood them.

Sure, the Democrats had the specific policies, but when it comes to a “story” emphasis sure as hell matters.  And it is absolutely clear that economic policies that benefit working class voters (of any race), was far from an emphasis of Clinton’s campaign.  Insofar as messaging, symbols, and rhetoric matter– and I would argue, a lot, the Democrats have, in fact, pivoted away from the economic issues of concern to the white working class.

And, no, I don’t think the Democrats should be focusing on the white working class (in large part because of how racial resentment gets tied into all of this), but a real story and emphasis about how the Democratic party is looking out for the needs of non-college-educated, working Americans, will surely help.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

2 Responses to Democrats have not abandoned the white working class; though the white working class thinks they have

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    How many times do us Democrats have to hear “It’s the economy, stupid” before it sinks in?
    Raising the minimum wage alone should be a strong issue because higher minimum wages raises pay up the job line. We had the plan but didn’t stress it, as well as other plans like new green energy jobs for workers whose jobs were gone.

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