There’s a mostly good article at Washington Monthly about the problems Democrats have with white working class voters. Andrew Levison writes that if Democrats are going to win WWC votes, they have to earn WWC trust.
WWC voters see three interest-group blocks that they say they don’t trust. One is politicians, who are seen as utterly corrupt parasites. This may account why they don’t learn from voting for Republicans.
Two is “Wall Street financial elite that makes decisions in faraway office towers that destroy local community jobs and mom-and-pop businesses.” And three is the “liberal elite.”
The third group is the â€œliberalâ€ eliteâ€”the heterogeneous group of college professors and students, Hollywood actors and producers, music and fashion producers, and TV, newspaper, and magazine columnists and commentators. They are not seen as a financial ruling class but rather a social group that dominates and controls the culture …. This power to impose their â€œliberalâ€ agenda on ordinary Americans is obtained through a cynical alliance with minorities who are bribed to vote for Democrats by various kinds of â€œhandouts,â€ special government programs, or preferential treatment.
There is a big urban versus rural component this, also. If you live in a city, you are more likely to accept diversity because you can’t very well avoid it. Small towns and suburbs are more homogenous.
This â€œclass consciousnessâ€ and â€œclass resentmentâ€ is a complex perspective that cannot be easily tracked by standard opinion polls. For this reason, it is often overlooked in the discussion of Democratic political strategy. But it is vividly evident in focus groups with white working-class Americans, in the discussions that occur during progressive campaigns of door to door canvassing in white working-class neighborhoods, and in the interviews conducted during ethnographic field studies. Its centrality is revealed in the very titles of the major sociological studies of white working-class Americans that have appeared in the last several years: Katherine Cramerâ€™sÂ The Politics of Resentment,Â Arlie Hochschildâ€™sÂ Strangers in Their Own Land,Â and Justin Gestâ€™sÂ The New Minority.
Essentially, a decades-long campaign by conservatives has succeeded in creating among the broad majority of white working class and small town/red state Americans a deeply embedded view of Democrats as the party of the educated urban elite who impose their liberal agenda through a cynical alliance with minorities.
Further, in “red” states most voters simply never hear Democratic messages. Levison describes a “three-level conservative ideological cocoon” that shuts out everything but right-wing messages. The Fox News and similar national media; “local” media, often dominated byÂ Sinclair TV stations and regional talk radio; and personal relationships. What’s happened in vast parts of the United States is that these three levels have formed a perfect echo chamber/feedback loop exclusively for right-wing messages. Nothing else can get through. I’ve been pretty much saying the same thing for years.
Levison does a good job describing the problem. The question is, what’s to be done about it? Levison’s prescriptions are weak, seems to me. Yeah, okay, be Jon Tester and go out and fix a tractor now and then.Â But I disagree with Levison that campaigning on issues is not the way to win back voters.
Part of the problem with Democrats is that they believe they campaign on issues when they really don’t.Â This was my gripe with Hillary Clinton’s campaign. She did not campaign on issues. Clinton supporters disagree with that and complain up and down that she did too; she had a whole website full of policy proposals. Yeah, and the only way to find out about them was to go to her website. By watching her television ads and seeing her on the teevee news, you wouldn’t have had a clue what she was running on other than her resume.
The recent right-to-work vote in Missouri proves that voters can turn out for issues. The Washington Post had a fascinating vote analysis that showed some of the same areas that went big for Trump in 2016 also went big against right-to-work this week.
The two highlighted counties are the ones with the biggest difference in votes. By some coincidence, where I am living now is adjacent to those counties. The Washington County line is about a twenty-minute walk from here. It is rural, white, poor as dirt. The biggest employers, I’m guessing, are county government and WalMart.
Right-to-work is a signature Republican issue in these parts, and it failed with Republican voters.
Of course, the opposition didn’t run oppo ads saying that right-to-work is a corrupt politician who is friends with Nancy Pelosi.
Josh Hawley, who is running against Claire McCaskill for senator, says in his ads that he represents Missouri values, but McCaskill doesn’t. What values would those be? The value of busting unions and underpaying workers? Of closing rural hospitals to force laboring women to travel for two hours to a hospital? Of laying off workers because of Trump’s tariffs? Which values, exactly? There is an unspoken assumption that Democrats are off-the-charts amoral and corrupt, but what the bleep? Republicans aren’t?
McCaskill is running on how she is going to take on the drug companies to lower prices. Okay, but too small bore. We’re going to fix health care, dammit. Don’t be afraid to make big promises. But then, of course, you can’t just disappear into a government office building, not to be heard from until the next campaign. Levison says,
[If] Democrats can regain a majority in the House of Representatives this November, it will provide them with the opportunity to show white working-class Americans the real sources of their economic problems and who is their genuine advocate. ..Â Revealing the hidden history of deindustrialization and the impoverishment of large sectors of small town and rural America can indeed contribute significantly to showing these voters that Democrats are actually â€œon their sideâ€ and â€œunderstand their problemsâ€
The “hidden history” is how people and communities who have been left behind by the global economy were tossed aside by corporations and the local business communities. Levison provides examples. But Democrats have to be aggressive, and as nasty as they need to be. No more gentility.
Anyway, do read the whole Levison article. He does make some good points.