Working-Class Voters

Posted on September 21, 2016 by

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The working-class voters have made themselves increasingly visible this election cycle. Will either political party try to capture these voters and become a “Workers’ Party” down the road?

Republicans and Working-Class Voters

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If Trump and his supporters denounced and distanced themselves from xenophobia and racism, would Trump’s Republican Party stand a chance with non-white working class voters? This question may be too late for November’s election, but it may bear significance for the Republican Party in the years to come. Voters have historically switched parties through the ebb and flow of American politics (for example, white Southerners abandoning the Democrats during the Civil Rights Era), with the white working-class not long ago identifying with the Democratic Party. If the Republican Party reinvents itself as an appealing Workers’ Party, it could win larger shares of the electorate and remain relevant through the shifting demographics of the United States.

However, the Republican Party would need to reconcile the white working-class that Trump has captured with the non-white working class. But this election cycle, the white working-class has condemned the changing American demographics and rise of minorities, so there exists a significant cultural chasm between white and non-white working class voters. Specifically, for black working-class voters, the backlash against the modern Republican Party may be irreconcilable. Black voters started voting Democratic heavily during the Civil Rights Movement, and they have held those voting habits since then.

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The Republican Party has an extensive recent history of racism, and black voters’ opposition to the Republican Party, even without active racist language may be hard to overcome.

Democrats and Working-Class Voters

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So, do the Democrats stand a chance of capturing the working class vote instead? Bernie Sanders’ popularity certainly suggests that the Democrats can rally around economic insecurity and social benefits, but Bernie’s primary run points to a lack of broad-based support. Sanders’ struggled to amass the support he needed within the Democratic Party, but if a campaign like Bernie’s could draw the support of the white working-class of both parties, along with strong non-white working-class support, it would gain considerable momentum.

But, aside from Bernie Sanders, the Democrats are not focusing on the working-class voters as a demographic, let alone the white working-class. Of white working-class voters, Donald Brownstein writes:

Those voters haven’t been the party’s center for years: except for Bill Clinton in 1996, no Democrat has won more than 40 percent of white voters without a college education since 1980, according to media exit polls. On a national basis, Democrats have largely replaced them with increased support from Millennials, minorities, and college-educated whites—while running just enough above their national numbers among working-class whites in the key Midwestern battlegrounds to retain the advantage in those pivotal states.

Instead, the Democrats champion racial equality, gay rights and environmental movements. These issues, though they garner support from the non-white minorities, do not speak to the economic situation of the working-class. The Democratic Party has become the liberal culture party, and the Republican Party has become the party of the wealthy. Both parties face significant need for reform, as the successes of party outsiders like Trump and Sanders show.

A Workers’ Party?

Sanders and Trump have both shown a path to the future: supporting the working-class. But perhaps the Republican Party faces the most need to reform at the moment, and for that reason, I think it’s likely the Republican Party will cater to the working class before the Democratic Party pivots.  The GOP faces a real threat to its party support with changing demographics. The GOP may not be successful in their reforms, but they are in the direst need to reform, or their party will continue to perish.

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