Why Americans Don’t Vote Their Class Anymore

Why Americans Don’t Vote Their Class Anymore — New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz on the declining correlation between American voters’ socioeconomic class and their partisan voting behavior

For decades now, major left-wing parties throughout the West have been bleeding support from the working-class voters whose interests they claim to represent.

In the mid-20th century, a voter’s socioeconomic position strongly predicted his or her partisan allegiance: In Britain, France, and the United States, voters with low incomes and only a high-school education tended to support left-of-center parties, while high-income, highly educated voters aligned with those of the right. In all three nations, this is no longer the case. All else equal, lower-income voters are still more likely to “vote blue” in the U.S. But that tendency is much weaker than in the past. Meanwhile, the relationship between educational attainment and partisan preference has flipped: Now, college-educated voters are more likely to support putative workers’ parties, while non-college-educated ones tend to favor conservatives. […]

What’s more, the declining salience of class identity has exacerbated the challenge of enacting progressive reform even when Democrats do manage to secure power. Corporate America and the typical worker do not meet each other on an even political playing field. Effective civic engagement requires resources. It takes money to finance campaigns, time to monitor legislative and regulatory developments, and organization to bend those developments in one’s favor. The Chamber of Commerce can shoulder these costs much more easily than isolated working people. Traditionally, the left’s formula for overcoming this fundamental disadvantage has been to (1) help workers collectivize the costs of political engagement by organizing into trade unions, and (2) exploit the working class’s numerical supremacy to overwhelm capitalist opposition. Or, as socialist sloganeers have summarized it: They’ve got money, but we’ve got people; we are many, they are few.

But once workers stop organizing into unions, and stop voting on the basis of class identity, they cease to be “many” in the operative sense. Both major parties become intra-class coalitions in which working people’s interests as workers are either balanced against those of corporate coalition partners (as in the Democratic Party) or ignored (as in the GOP). Meanwhile, absent the concentration of working people into one dominant partisan coalition, America’s veto-point-laden legislative institutions — and the tendency of staggered presidential and midterm elections to produce divided government — render large-scale reform of any kind a Herculean task.

So, the left is right to lament class depolarization. But some left-wing accounts of how this development came about, what implications it has for contemporary electoral politics, and how the working class can be “brought home” are less convincing.

posted by tonycpsu (65 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

How is it possible to write an article like this about American politics and basically not mention racial dynamics at all?

Income does predict party voting patterns in the expected ways – only income among whites doesn’t, and even that can be complicated – and using Bernie voting as a proxy for left-wing views would have all sorts of biases for reasons discussed to death in the primary threads.
posted by Ktm1 at 9:53 AM on April 28 [28 favorites]

Just pointing out that the word “racism” never appears in that article. Seems absurd.
But “siren song of the GOP’s reactionary populism” does. So there’s that.
posted by a complicated history at 9:55 AM on April 28 [25 favorites]
The article misses the point from the very lede – namely that these voters are very much voting their class interest. A non-college educated white man voting for a candidate who, either tacitly or openly, pushes for support of white supremacy is voting for someone who is supporting their class interest, because race and class are interconnected.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:55 AM on April 28 [24 favorites]
But once workers stop organizing into unions, and stop voting on the basis of class identity, they cease to be “many” in the operative sense.

QFT. The decline of the working class and their political acumen went with unions.

Once the unions were removed from political hegemony there was a power vacuum and the exact people who caused the decline of the unions and working class perfectly segued their message and directed the anger of the working class straight towards racism instead of the capitalists that destroyed their economic prospects.

I kind of understand why it happened though. How do you work against powerful people with almost infinite resources? It’s a hopeless fight to so many (and my respect to those who keep fighting it with such vigor). Now these people with infinite resources are now saying if you give said people with political power they’ll at least look out for your kind. An attribute that won’t change. You can become poor but you can’t be not-white*. As long as you can say “at least I’m better than any colored person” you remain some dignity in some society wide delusion of an imagined social hierarchy. Punching down at immigrants gets some sort of gratification because one gets both vengeance and to keep their imagined place in said imaginary social structure.

*Offer only applies until the fascists don’t need Catholics to keep their power and hegemony.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 10:06 AM on April 28 [5 favorites]

I’m paywalled so I hope someone here can explain how the article is framed. Which party is meant to represent the interest of poor and working class people in America? Or is it about intra party?
posted by mikek at 10:16 AM on April 28
I don’t think this is any surprise.

“pushes for support of white supremacy is voting for someone who is supporting their class interest, because race and class are interconnected.”

They are voting for their perceived class interest. But it is most plainly not in their true class interest. Otherwise you are suggesting that it is indeed the right thing for them to do and that supremacist grievances are justified.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 10:17 AM on April 28 [6 favorites]

I think importing race into this is problematic for two reasons. First, Piketty’s data is about global trends and this inversion is happening in racially homogeneous countries as well.

Second, the uncomfortable point that Piketty makes is that it’s people like ourselves—urban, higher educated—who are voting against leftist interests. So saying that the right is racist is totally a deflection of that.

(I could be misremembering but I’m saying this based on having read Piketty’s slides from last month.) This is a long article but I’m assuming most of it is a regurgitation of what Piketty found out.
posted by polymodus at 10:17 AM on April 28 [13 favorites]

American politics is aspirational marketing plain and simple. People in this country vote for what they want to be, not necessarily what they are.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:19 AM on April 28 [11 favorites]
The article misses the point from the very lede – namely that these voters are very much voting their class interest. A non-college educated white man voting for a candidate who, either tacitly or openly, pushes for support of white supremacy is voting for someone who is supporting their class interest, because race and class are interconnected.

Race and class are indeed deeply interconnected thanks to centuries of white supremacy coupled tightly with capitalism, but a GOP tax cut that benefits billionaires or guts healthcare does little to benefit white men without college degrees.

But just as working-class people of color reliably vote for white supremacist Democrats who don’t represent their material interests, these working-class white men still reliably vote for Republicans who don’t represent their material interests because the other side is seen as worse, especially on social issues that aren’t directly relevant to their material interests.
posted by Ouverture at 10:19 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]

Colleges really are vehicles for left-wing indoctrination.

Alternative framing: America is a vehicle for right-wing indoctrination and colleges are a corrective.

Funny how the answer is often determined by how you ask the question. I think a lot of us here would agree that right wing indoctrination is American culture is neither accidental nor organic.
posted by klanawa at 10:30 AM on April 28 [37 favorites]

Yeah, the article only seems to mention race as a brief aside:

…(since nonwhite voters lean heavily Democratic regardless of class or education, the debate over whether the class basis of the Democratic coalition can be changed has centered on divisions within the white electorate).

It seems wilfully ignorant to focus so much on class divisions solely within the “white electorate” without talking about why race has become the largest overall factor in predicting voter affiliation.
posted by Go Banana at 10:33 AM on April 28 [8 favorites]

They are voting for their perceived class interest. But it is most plainly not in their true class interest. Otherwise you are suggesting that it is indeed the right thing for them to do and that supremacist grievances are justified.

Are you arguing that billionaires working to retain their own power (their class interest) is “the right thing for them to do”? I would imagine not, thus something being in one’s class interest is not congruent with whether or not that act being just.

We need to abandon this idea that the white working class have been duped into their positions. If they perceive something as being in their class interest, then it is in their class interest.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:45 AM on April 28 [8 favorites]

My understanding could be better, but to my knowledge, it didn’t used to be that so many latinx people voted democrat. There’s still a few groups that don’t, Cubans are still often conservative, tied into anti castro sentiment for some, which is part of how you get florida hispanic republicans in congress. California used to be way more Republican. It was the GOP anti immigrant efforts that really pushed many latinx people to vote democrat, which is arguably how the Democratic party stayed viable and even grew in some places, given the loss of many white working class people.
posted by gryftir at 10:45 AM on April 28
Since Clinton and Blair have the party institutions had much to offer the working class anyway?
posted by sjswitzer at 10:48 AM on April 28 [6 favorites]
Because everyone without money feels so fucked that politics has become an abstract thing rather than a tool to help improve our lives. When you’re fucked anyway voting in your own interest isn’t particularly helpful, so you might as well cast your ballot based on abstract ideals instead of practical needs.
posted by wierdo at 10:52 AM on April 28 [5 favorites]
But just as working-class people of color reliably vote for white supremacist Democrats who don’t represent their material interests, these working-class white men still reliably vote for Republicans who don’t represent their material interests because the other side is seen as worse, especially on social issues that aren’t directly relevant to their material interests.

Social issues are material interests. There is no divorcing the two.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:55 AM on April 28 [4 favorites]

Are you arguing that billionaires working to retain their own power (their class interest) is “the right thing for them to do”?

Rational, then. And yes. And it’s why they should not exist.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:56 AM on April 28

Glad to see so many people rejecting the premise. Almost no one votes against his class interest … he just perceives his class, or its interests, differently from what you might think.

Also, it’s strange he doesn’t grapple with the immense influence of unions on the Democratic Party. That power, and which flavors of left politics they do, and don’t, use that power to advance, are very interesting to discuss.
posted by MattD at 10:58 AM on April 28 [2 favorites]

The way I see it, the GOP is a coalition of single-issue voters.

Anti-reproductive rights and pro-Israel types (e.g. Orthodox Jews) are the most reliable GOP voters, with 80% support levels.

Pro-gun ownership, pro-traditional family/sexuality, and Christianists in general fill out the conservative coalition, before we get to the tactical libertarians and the well-off who vote conservative to defend their $$$ from increased “Welfare State” redistribution.

White nationalists are also in this nuthatch, but at this point it should be clear all these people are unreachable by rational appeal and must simply be continuously outvoted, if possible.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 11:10 AM on April 28 [4 favorites]

Social issues are material interests. There is no divorcing the two.

Partisan social issues or signaling like “rolling coal” or anti-trans rights certainly have material implications for oppressed people, but for a reactionary white person without a college degree, these social issues aren’t material to their life. The number of gay people they see on TV won’t directly impact their socioeconomic position.

That is what makes fear and hate-based issue bundling such an effective tool.
posted by Ouverture at 11:11 AM on April 28 [8 favorites]

(whispers)
This is not a matter of being indoctrinated between keggers. For middle-class people, even upper-middle-class white people, voting for the Republican party is not in their class interest anymore. Look at where Republicans direct money these days: to billionaires, and perhaps to some savvy multi-millionaires. Republicans regularly attack Social Security and Medicare. They capped the SALT mortgage deduction in a way that directly affected people who bought in expensive real estate markets (almost entirely people with high salaries and advanced degrees). The best public universities might not accept their children, and will cost a small fortune if they do. Republicans aren’t really “looking after” their people in the suburbs the way they used to. If you’re part of the dwindling middle class and not especially devoted to racism, there’s no reason to vote Republican for “fiscal issues” anymore.
posted by grandiloquiet at 11:12 AM on April 28 [5 favorites]
American politics is aspirational marketing plain and simple. People in this country vote for what they want to be, not necessarily what they are.

something something temporarily embarrassed millionaires
posted by entropicamericana at 11:13 AM on April 28 [4 favorites]

Anti-reproductive rights and pro-Israel types (e.g. Orthodox Jews)

So… In Judaism- even Orthodox Judaism abortion is not considered a sin. It should be avoided if it can- but to save a mother’s life the fetus is not considered a person. Also- Most ultra-Orthodox are anti-Israel due to their… peculiar interpretation of scripture. And considered all Jews when lumped together tend to vote democratic 70-80% of the time, AND that most ultra-orthodox avoid voting at all since it’s not studying the Torah I’d like to see your numbers. The #1 voting bloc that is Anti-reproductive rights and Pro-Israel is Evangelical Christians.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 11:16 AM on April 28 [14 favorites]

You seem to be saying that the vast majority of GOP voters are Orthodox Jews which is a tad odd when you consider how much of a minority of a minority Orthodox Jews are just demographically.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 11:18 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]
>This is a long article but I’m assuming most of it is a regurgitation of what Piketty found out.

No,it barely mentions Piketty, only a single graph.

>Second, the uncomfortable point that Piketty makes is that it’s people like ourselves—urban, higher educated—who are voting against leftist interests.

That is sort of the opposite of the article’s thesis, which is that urban, highly educated (proxying for higher income) people vote against their own (stereotyped, economic) interests and instead for leftists interests in the US. That voting patterns are inverted from expectations.

The problem is that this is at best only partially true for certain subsets of people which get disproportionate media attention.
posted by Ktm1 at 11:20 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]

Just pointing out that the word “racism” never appears in that article. Seems absurd.

I believe this to be one of the blind spots of the left and it has been for virtually ever. Yeah the left tries to be radically colorblind in most cases but, at the same time, a lot of the economic disparities that minorities experience will only be rectified by putting in real work towards positively addressing economic imbalances between ethnicities. Even Roosevelt, a Bull Moose Progressive, recognized this:

Socialism strives to remedy what is evil alike in domestic and in economic life, and its tendency is to insist that the economic remedy is all-sufficient in every case. We should all join in the effort to do away with the evil; but we should refuse to have anything to do with remedies which are either absurd or mischievous, for such, of course, would merely aggravate the present suffering. The first thing to recognize is that, while economic reform is often vital, it is never all-sufficient.

Now there’s a LOT in that essay to disagree with, after all, it is the product of its time in the early 1900s, but I do think he’s absolutely right in that the left far too often thinks solving economics will solve everything to the detriment of bringing allies to their cause. When you look at the conduct through the lens of the “more convenient season” it think that when the Left doesn’t focus on racial inequality in order to keep up the focus on economics, to me the Left are unintentionally doing their own version of asking black people to wait for a “more convenient season”. First we create a socialist utopia, then we fix racism.

I don’t think this is because the Left is particularly racist but because countries where leftism came from were primarily ethnically homogeneous societies (at least relative to the US and its melting pot) so when Leftist scholars referred to workers it included all the downtrodden by default so racial disparity wasn’t even a thing to think of. Even when left aligned unions were extremely powerful in the United States, they were far more ethnically homogeneous than the general populations which I believe further blinded them as the 20th century went on and the left’s power structure in the US waned.

That being said, I don’t think this is an issue that cannot be unsolved but I do think it’s a very difficult to thread. Too much towards minorities and all of a sudden your bread and butter working class think they’re shafted. Too much attention towards the WWC political power bases and minorities will desert you as has been witnessed in 2016/2020. When I look at the rhetoric coming out of the left there’s lots of stuff for everybody but when I look for things that are directed straight at black communities, there’s stuff that will affect black communities more than any other but there’s nothing like “we’re going to bring back DACA” (clearly hispanic) or “we’re going to end war in Yemen” (clearly for poor people in Yemen) but nothing to address clear racial disparities.

The fight for $15, ending the war on drugs, social medicine. These things will unquestionably help the black community. But when an ethnic group is disproportionately at the bottom of the totem pole I dare say you want to hear about how to get more opportunity and social movement to those who have lacked it rather than making the bottom of the totem pole a less shitty place to be. Yeah it’s a noble goal and if you had to choose between it and someone who’s going to make sure police continue to get open season on killing your community members you’d probably pick it but, at least from my perspective, it feels like black people aren’t really being paid attention to when the answer is “when the system is rebuilt it’ll be awesome!”

It doesn’t mean black people have to be the focus of the left. When progressives and centrists show up hat in hand looking for black votes they commit to lots of medium to small things inside black communities that can build opportunities. More funding for HBCU? Done. Let’s get more black kids into school. Not everyone can get a college degree but we can make sure more black kids get the chance. Federal oversight of police violence and a DOJ willing to prosecute racist cops? Something they promise and do. Black kids have asthma and can’t get an inhaler? We’re going to get them the damn inhaler. They can’t fix racism but they can give means for black people to rise in a system that has typically worked to keep them down rather than trying to tear down and fix everything at once. Is it as great as making sure the lowest totem pole position sucks? Not for people at the bottom of a totem pole. Is it better for black people? They seem to think so because they vote for these people in landslides.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 11:36 AM on April 28 [6 favorites]

I don’t think the piece is being adequately grappled with here (beyond the initial reflex of ctrl’f for “race” and not finding it) and it’s a shame because it is pretty distinctive from what usually passes for mainstream political analysis in American politics:

The fact that Sanders boasts more support among suburban college graduates than whites with low levels of education shouldn’t be surprising. His agenda may have more to offer the latter in material terms. But in the contemporary U.S., college-educated whites tend to evince more progressive policy preferences than non-college-educated ones even on matters of redistribution. In a national survey fielded earlier this month, the progressive think tank Data for Progress asked voters, “Do you think it is the responsibility of the federal government to see to it that everyone has health-care coverage?” College-educated white voters said “yes” by a margin of 50 to 39 percent; among non-college-educated white voters, that margin was 43 to 39 percent.

The results of Maine’s 2017 referendum on Medicaid expansion lend credence to this finding. Given the opportunity to expand the availability of socialized health insurance, the most highly educated parts of the Pine Tree State voted in favor, while the least well-educated regions voted against. Material interests weren’t entirely irrelevant to voting patterns: Researchers found that, if one held education constant, then areas with higher incomes were more likely to oppose Medicaid expansion. But an area’s median income was still a less reliable predictor of its support for the policy than its average level of educational attainment; college trumped class.

This same dynamic is reflected in the ideological tendencies of the Democratic Party’s congressional caucus. Democratic House members who represent districts with above-median levels of college-educated white voters are more likely to belong to the Progressive Caucus — and to co-sponsor Medicare for All — than those who represent districts with above-median levels of non-college-educated white voters.

Trump secured over a half million votes in places that voted for Obama twice. To breezily reduce this to a unitary question of racial animus not only absolves Democrats of answering hard questions about what changed in 4 and 8 years when they were in power, but also makes it all the harder to build political power with the electoral college, the Senate, and at local+state levels.

Also:

But Eckland and Weiner believed that novel circumstances were more likely to hasten the erosion of class-based voting. All else equal, going to college made Americans more left wing, especially (though not exclusively) on questions of morality and cultural identity. And since a growing number of Americans, from a diversifying array of socioeconomic backgrounds, were poised to attend college in the coming decades, education-based political divisions were likely to grow in salience over time, while class-based ones diminished. As the researchers wrote:

Between 1940 and 1960 the proportion of all 18-21 year-olds enrolled in college more than doubled. Even if this trend does not continue and the figures stabilize, the average educational level of the adult population nevertheless will continue to rise for at least the next 4 or 5 decades, just as it has for the past several decades. This opens up the possibility that higher education is strongly implicated in the decline of class politics.

Four decades later, that “possibility” has grown to resemble a proven fact.

posted by Ouverture at 11:39 AM on April 28 [7 favorites]

Anti-reproductive rights and pro-Israel types (e.g. Orthodox Jews) are the most reliable GOP voters, with 80% support levels.
This gives results from one (small) survey and had Haredi (ultra Orthodox) at 66% for Trump, and Modern Orthodox at 32%.

Suppory for Trump from white Evangelicals has been between 70 and 80%. They are the anti-abortion, pro-Israel voters you’re looking for.
posted by damayanti at 11:40 AM on April 28 [8 favorites]

No,it barely mentions Piketty, only a single graph.

That’s actually beside the point, which is that the piece is a strange rehash of Piketty (and, did you see that section about the 1970 study?); it’s clear the author read the paper but then decided to use that one graph out of context.

If you cite someone’s work you have to do it in a way that’s true to that work’s argument. So here’s my question about this piece. Piketty’s paper was explicit that class-based party systems were temporary and underwent a reversal into Brahmin-vs-Merchant elitist-based party systems. Piketty goes at length into whether this system is an equilibrium or not. Eric Levitz cites that paper then spends the rest of his article vacillating on whether he thinks the Democratic Party represents leftists or college-educated elites, as if he never actually read Piketty’s paper (or Piketty’s conclusion, which answers the question asked in the title).
posted by polymodus at 11:41 AM on April 28

You seem to be saying that the vast majority of GOP voters are Orthodox Jews which is a tad odd when you consider how much of a minority of a minority Orthodox Jews are just demographically.

I suspect they are wildly wrong on the facts and doing some weird aggregating (anti-choice and ortho jews are somehow grouped together?) but that is not at all what they said. They said they were the most reliable. Not that they were a vast majority.
posted by srboisvert at 11:43 AM on April 28

Since Clinton and Blair have the party institutions had much to offer the working class anyway?

From my vantage point, the difference between third wayers and the left seems to be where the egalitarianism lies. For the third way faction in most cases they seem to tend more towards opportunity, and for the left it seems more toward the result. This is why Biden goes to billionaires and tells them to cut that amassing money for sport shit out and Bernie talks about wiping them out.

Conservatives don’t want either because they want the entrenched hierarchical power structure and their own security to remain unchanged. Since everything is a zero sum game to them any attempt to disrupt the “natural order of things” is a threat to them.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 11:50 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]

For middle-class people, even upper-middle-class white people, voting for the Republican party is not in their class interest anymore. Look at where Republicans direct money these days: to billionaires, and perhaps to some savvy multi-millionaires.

This. I get rather enraged when billionaires have a lower effective tax rate than my wife and I. The heavy lifting of government revenue isn’t being done by the rich, it’s being done by the upper middle class who don’t have the luxury of making their admittedly higher incomes disappear from high tax sources and appear from low ones.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 11:54 AM on April 28 [4 favorites]

I believe this to be one of the blind spots of the left and it has been for virtually ever. Yeah the left tries to be radically colorblind in most cases but, at the same time, a lot of the economic disparities that minorities experience will only be rectified by putting in real work towards positively addressing economic imbalances between ethnicities.

Do you have any citations for how race has been a blind spot of the left “for virtually ever”?

Because I think Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X, C.L.R. James, Huey Newton, Fred Hampton, Bayard Rustin, Edward Said, and B.R. Ambedkar have all started rapidly spinning in their graves.

Meanwhile, Angela Davis and Adolph Reed Jr. have begun levitating and rotating at concerning speeds.

And is the best quote to pull while discussing leftists and race really going to be from Teddy Roosevelt, noted genocidal white supremacist?

The reason why Americans might not know about leftist people of color is because conservatives and centrists spent most of the last century killing and imprisoning the ones they could and whitewashing away the ones they couldn’t.

It seems as though they succeeded.
posted by Ouverture at 11:56 AM on April 28 [8 favorites]

That is sort of the opposite of the article’s thesis, which is that urban, highly educated (proxying for higher income) people vote against their own (stereotyped, economic) interests and instead for leftists interests in the US. That voting patterns are inverted from expectations.

Not what Levitz actually says. He says:

“If academic socialization could teach such children of the upper-middle class to prioritize Marxist convictions above their 401(k)s, why couldn’t it also teach millions of “normie” college-educated Democrats to prize progressive principles above their marginal tax rates?”

Levitz here is saying that by an large, college-educated Democrats (what Piketty calls Brahmin elitists) do not in fact vote leftist. It’s upper-middle class, affluent college-educated Marxist leftists that are the minority exception. This is consistent with Piketty’s thesis.

Again my confusion is, if not this interpretation, then why would Levitz cite Piketty, and then say something 90º different from it. He shouldn’t be citing that as supporting evidence, then.
posted by polymodus at 11:56 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]

The reason why Americans might not know about leftist people of color is because conservatives and centrists spent most of the last century killing and imprisoning the ones they could and whitewashing away the ones they couldn’t.

I’m sorry. My intention wasn’t to say that the minority left didn’t exist, I was trying to say that where the mainstream factions of the left held institutional power they ignored the minority left and didn’t concern themselves with the white caused racial struggles of minorities. That’s what I mean by:

Even when left aligned unions were extremely powerful in the United States, they were far more ethnically homogeneous than the general populations which I believe further blinded them as the 20th century went on and the left’s power structure in the US waned.

posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 12:04 PM on April 28 [2 favorites]

Wasn’t union organizing and membership also tied to white identity in addition to class until fairly historically recently?
posted by Selena777 at 12:18 PM on April 28 [3 favorites]
Exactly. Union jobs were great jobs but in most cases black people couldn’t get into unions.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 12:19 PM on April 28 [10 favorites]
I would assume that Democrat and Republican are brands. People shop for brands. I really don’t think that most voters in this country, left, center, or right spend much time actually thinking about or analyzing the issues. They just pick the current brand they most identify with. Is there really much difference between saying “I’m a Democrat” or saying “I’m a Niners fan.” You can switch party affiliation and sports team to anything you want.
posted by njohnson23 at 1:01 PM on April 28 [8 favorites]
Too much towards minorities and all of a sudden your bread and butter working class think they’re shafted.

I beg you, Mefi, please stop this framing where the “real” working class is white people and the people most likely to have working-class-type jobs are this separate “minority” group.
posted by praemunire at 1:13 PM on April 28 [19 favorites]

it’s people like ourselves—urban, higher educated—who are voting against leftist interests

Even if that’s true, which it most certainly isn’t*, it’s certainly not this set that’s voting “against their own class interests”, is it. So it isn’t surprising. What IS surprising are the large swathes of white working class people who vote Republican: and they do so for absolutely no other reason than racism. That’s literally all there is to it.

A. Most people are working class, therefore most white people are also working class.

B. White people are racist.

C. Republicans have racist platforms

A + B +C = People who vote Republican are mostly white working class people and they vote this way because they are racist. The end.

*Incidentally, we need to find better words to talk about these things. In the socialist-or-lefter world, “voting against leftists interests” means “voting against socialist-and-lefter interests”. But in the regular world, “voting against leftist interests” means “voting republican”. Until we find a common vocabulary, we will continue to talk past each other.
posted by MiraK at 1:38 PM on April 28 [2 favorites]

Trump secured over a half million votes in places that voted for Obama twice. To breezily reduce this to a unitary question of racial animus

Oh no, there was misogyny too.
posted by MiraK at 1:49 PM on April 28 [10 favorites]

Oh no, there was misogyny too.

yet you just said:

and they do so for absolutely no other reason than racism. That’s literally all there is to it.
posted by philip-random at 2:01 PM on April 28 [2 favorites]

Racism and misogyny both equate to white male hatred towards the other. And other equates to whatever is not me.
posted by njohnson23 at 2:05 PM on April 28 [2 favorites]
[Folks hopefully this is the kind of site where we can recognize people do things for a combination of reasons, and we can talk about causes without needing to have some artificial fight over which factor is The One Single Explanation.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 2:12 PM on April 28 [6 favorites]
Can someone please point me to the mainstream factions of the left? Cause I would love to get me some of that.
posted by 99_ at 2:27 PM on April 28
That’s literally all there is to it.

Assuming the sole factors for tens of millions of American voters in 2016 can be definitively generalized to racism and misogyny, what does this say about all the women and people of color who voted for Trump in greater percentages than they had previously voted for Romney?

Can their behavior really be completely explained so cleanly by internalized racism and misogyny?

Or the people of color and young people who stayed home in record numbers? What changed between 2008 and 2016? If not voting at all was a vote for Trump, can we assign such essentialized causation to why young people and people of color didn’t vote for a woman president? Is misogyny literally all there is is to it?

As mentioned in the article, there is no path forward for Democrats in the Senate and in many local+state governments without working-class voters of all races, especially white voters in states where there simply aren’t that many people of color. How useful is it to say “oh, we will just have to accept losing vast amounts of political power because we know each and single one of these voters will forever going to remain irredeemably racist and sexist”?

There was a time not too long ago when Democrats campaigned on, among other things, explicitly white supremacist mass incarceration, police militarization, financial deregulation, destroying the welfare system, and the execution of an intellectually impaired black prisoner. Despite this, they continued to reliably win the votes of people of color while losing much of their white voter base. If racism explains the preferences of this particular white voting segment, why didn’t they stay with these New Democrats?
posted by Ouverture at 2:31 PM on April 28 [9 favorites]

People who are younger probably have a very small understanding the significance of Ricky Ray Rector and Sister Souljah because of how much has changed in terms of how media narratives evolve today. Or maybe they aren’t that impressed because Clinton only had to pull the trigger on one person. The DNC was willing to infect all of Milwaukee.
posted by 99_ at 2:46 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]
People who are younger probably have a very small understanding the significance of Ricky Ray Rector and Sister Souljah because of how much has changed in terms of how media narratives evolve today. Or maybe they aren’t that impressed because Clinton only had to pull the trigger on one person. The DNC was willing to infect all of Milwaukee.

Sorry if my post was worded in a way that is confusing. What I am saying is that the Democrats were in a, uh, race against the Republicans to be as center-reactionary as possible in the 90s. This was just a few years after Reagan provided amnesty to millions of undocumented immigrants.

Despite all this, white working-class voters still went to Republicans throughout that time and after the Clinton administration.
posted by Ouverture at 2:51 PM on April 28

This was just a few years after Reagan provided amnesty to millions of undocumented immigrants.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 was center-reactionary. It legalized the underclass that America had come to depend on while pulling the ladder up and pointing the immigration system in the direction of the harsh brutality it exhibits to this day. It’s how horse trading is done in politics.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 3:07 PM on April 28

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 was center-reactionary. It legalized the underclass that America had come to depend on while pulling the ladder up and pointing the immigration system in the direction of the harsh brutality it exhibits to this day. It’s how horse trading is done in politics.

Yes, agreed completely on all counts here; it planted seeds that have led to so much heartbreak in successive decades. But it still provided amnesty to millions of undocumented immigrants, something that wouldn’t even come close to being considered center-reactionary today.
posted by Ouverture at 3:15 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]

In a 2 party system, the parties are locked in doing opposite of each other. Some group is at the intersection of size and means and an agenda favorable to them is what gets pushed and the outsiders to that group form an opposition. Federalists and Anti-Federalists. Whigs vs conservatives. Farmers vs city folk.

From the 30’s into the 60’s, the Dems were “the workers” and that left the GOP as “the owners”. The 50’s was peak factories in the US so it makes sense that one side of politics arranged itself around labor/workers and the other was the opposition to that.

The Civil Rights movement shook things up and the pieces came back together as Nixon’s silent majority of white suburban people vs odds & ends “liberals”. Reagan’s part in the GOP was adding evangelicals to the mix.

Since the 70’s we de-industralized and shifted into an information economy. I think the group at the intersection of size and means in information economies is college educated people (tech companies, Silicon Valley, and Wall Street have been the US’s economic growth the last three decades now). The outsiders to that to form the opposition then becomes non-educated people.

Maybe Trump is the “Nixon” of this next political alignment cycle by fully expressing of one side of a new political alignment, un-educated people. Or maybe NAFTA in the 90s was the Dems going along with giving up on labor. I was in high school in Bush II’s first term in an exurban area and by then the Dems were seen as “snooty out of touch ivory tower people + minorities”.

At the same time, perhaps we need to not read too much into Trump’s win. In 2016 I supported Hillary but was rather surprised by how much support Bernie had. He beat her in major states and in the end the all-powerful Clinton Juggernaut barely beat him! At the time and since then me and the general sense I’ve gotten was “Woah, the Dems are a lot more socialist-oriented than I expected!” The result is the Dems have taken on a lot of progressive ideas since then.

This cycle after the first primary or two, Bernie seemed to be stuck at about 30% support and wasn’t able to expand beyond that while everyone else consolidated to Joe and there’s been a general buoyancy and optimism about Joe since then. It wasn’t until that point that it sank in for me: People didn’t want Bernie for Bernie, they were voting for the non-Hillary option, which means, HOLY COW people really didn’t like Hillary, even a large amount of Democratic voters! She barely got through the primary, while it was a cakewalk for Joe!

Which makes me think then that the 2016 election was more of a freak occurrence than something to think we’re shifting political paradigms on. It’s like how in all of the thousands of miles of open ocean, two ships managed to find each other in the same place at the same exact time and collide. Both Clinton and Trump got the one opponent that was as uniquely odious to voters as they were cancelling that factor out. Clinton vs a normal GOP like McCain or Romney would be a GOP blowout and Trump versus a normal Dem like Biden will hopefully be like 2018 and a Dem blowout. But in 2016 we got Clinton vs Trump and people chose to stay home or roll the dice with the less known side.
posted by Blue Tsunami at 3:44 PM on April 28 [3 favorites]

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/graph/?g=qPOb

^ % of total adult pop working in manufacturing
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 4:21 PM on April 28

Or maybe NAFTA in the 90s was the Dems going along with giving up on labor.

Nixon threw open the gates. Without some sort of cost-of-living tariff being paid in order to maintain access to the US market it was going to be the end of a lot of US manufacturing, Democrat or Republican. NAFTA was basically making sure a North American trading bloc could at least proceed to quickly filter down price benefits to the middle class. If their wages are stagnant they could at least make shit cheaper.

I was in high school in Bush II’s first term in an exurban area and by then the Dems were seen as “snooty out of touch ivory tower people + minorities”.

For a few years post-9/11 liberal was a political four letter word. Nobody wanted some hoity-toity elite telling them that spending trillions on a vengeful war was possibly a bad idea.

But yeah, I do believe that we’re witnessing the sixth realignment. Right now we’re smack in the middle of the dealignment as Republicans with half a brain are having to decide whether to oppose or embrace the insanity. I wouldn’t be surprised if it did come down to educated vs non-educated as you said.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 4:22 PM on April 28

Or right half of the IQ distribution vs. left half
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 4:24 PM on April 28
Or right half of the IQ distribution vs. left half

Many of the very worst war criminals and economic vampires (and their supporters) in both of America’s political parties are incredibly intelligent and smart people. They just happen to put their intelligence to maximizing unimaginable cruelty and profits.

There is nothing inherently virtuous about intelligence, especially with such a broken and meaningless metric like IQ.
posted by Ouverture at 4:37 PM on April 28 [7 favorites]

I wouldn’t be surprised if it did come down to educated vs non-educated as you said

It already has to a large extent, for white people in 2016 and 2018 the biggest predictor of voting was a college education. (538 link on 2016, Pew link on 2018). Gender is the other big one.
posted by thefoxgod at 4:38 PM on April 28

A lot of people seem to think that politics should be like programming: tick the boxes, score the issues, beep-boop here’s your preferred candidate. In fact, as above, people even do this in reverse: Haredi/ultra-Orthodox Jews vote for an anti-abortion party? They must really care about abortion! That’s clearly not the way things work. If politics is about anything, it’s about narrative.

There’s a really illuminating anecdote about the previous Satmar Rebbe, a controversial figure who probably did more than anyone else to promote theological anti-Zionism among Haredi/ultra-Orthodox Jews. I think it’s worth reflecting on what it says about groups ostensibly voting against class interests:

It was 1968, and Senator Hubert Humphrey was running for the Democratic nomination for President. So he has a meeting with the Satmar Rebbe and explains how pro-Israel he has always been, that under his administration Israel won’t feel isolated (this was just after the Six Day War, remember) and so forth. The Rebbe winked at his aides who were basically laughing at the senator behind his back: Boy, did he take the wrong line with the Rebbe! But not so; the late Rebbe listened to Humphrey and thanked him and accompanied him to the door as he left, then turned to his aides and said “What do you want? I should have explained to him about the Shalosh Shevuos? [the Satmar Rebbe’s theological argument justifying his opposition to a Jewish state] This was just his way of telling us that he wasn’t an antisemite.”

It’s pretty clear that the Republican Party is a lot more Nazi-adjacent than the Democratic Party and this was true back then too. Nonetheless, starting maybe around 2000, Republican politicians started going on about their support for Israel and how tough they were on terrorism. This was, paradoxically, most effective in the least Zionist segment of the Orthodox Jewish community. And when the Obama administration turned out to be relatively cold towards Israel, to the extent that “a senior Obama administration official” briefed a journalist that Netanyahu was “a chickenshit”, it didn’t have much effect on Modern Orthodox Jews but confirmed the narrative of Haredi ones – including ones ideologically opposed to any Israeli government. Here was something that didn’t affect them and which they ostensibly had never cared about but it apparently had a big confirmatory effect. The only way this makes sense is by looking at it as part of a narrative: Obama doesn’t care about Jews.

So why are the “White working class” so receptive to Republican talking points when they are literally crazy and Democratic policies would be better for basically everybody on every metric whatsoever? Because of the narrative(s). I don’t know what the solution is but I’m very sure that it does not involve adopting Republican talking points as policy, because it is not and has never been primarily about policy. It’s about a perception that Republican politicians are “on their side” while Democratic ones are not.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:40 PM on April 28 [6 favorites]

(That said, “college education” is a useful shorthand when doing demo research like this since you can’t get at it otherwise, but I suspect it’s more “education/knowledge” than the “college” part — intelligent self-educated people who didn’t go to college for economic or other reasons are still likely to not be Trump voters)
posted by thefoxgod at 4:40 PM on April 28 [2 favorites]
*Incidentally, we need to find better words to talk about these things. In the socialist-or-lefter world, “voting against leftists interests” means “voting against socialist-and-lefter interests”. But in the regular world, “voting against leftist interests” means “voting republican”. Until we find a common vocabulary, we will continue to talk past each other.

I don’t think it’s a matter of talking past each other, I think in a topical context that uses Piketty’s research as key evidence, we should use his definition of the left which is the leftist definition of the left. This is basic academic ethics. When comments such as yours insist on a picture of a “normal world” that conflates Democratic Party left-wing for being the leftist left, that achieves two things:

a) intellectually a disservice to Piketty’s work (i.e., selective distortion of academic concepts)

b) normalizes neoliberal oppression of the left (i.e., discursive hegemony)

That’s the baseline. We talk all the time about being scientifically literate and valuing the input of experts. People don’t get to discard that whenever the results don’t align with their politics.
posted by polymodus at 4:46 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]

> I think in a topical context that uses Piketty’s research as key evidence, we should use his definition of the left which is the leftist definition of the left.

Why? In the second chart, Piketty uses votes for the [d]emocratic (sic) party as the metric, not votes for leftists. It’s perfectly fine to cite data from a paper to make a different point or even reach a different conclusion than the author who collected / compiled that data as long as you’re not trying to misrepresent the data itself, which Levitz is not doing here. He’s citing Piketty in sort of an offhand way because the chart illustrated the pattern he was interested in discussing nicely, not because he was trying to support or undermine Piketty’s conclusions.

Levitz uses other data points to make his case, including primary results, M4A support, etc., so I find your decision to zero in on his use of Piketty’s data and attempt to cast it as a “strange rehash” to be a rather puzzling and weird derail. The rest of the piece is explicitly discussing things in terms of electoral politics, which requires using a definition of the left that’s relevant on Election Day, and at this time, in our two party system, that is the Democratic party.

As for the scant discussion of race in this piece, he acknowledges that as a weakness here. I still think there’s a useful discussion of the educational and income patterns that often correlate with race, so I saw it as more useful than the typical “let’s find votes in the white working class” article we’re accustomed to seeing in election years. But I also understand why others see it differently.
posted by tonycpsu at 5:44 PM on April 28

“for white people in 2016 and 2018 the biggest predictor of voting was a college education.”

And so thefoxgod takes us back to the linked article’s actual argument.
posted by doctornemo at 5:51 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]

all the women and people of color who voted for Trump in greater percentages than they had previously voted for Romney?

Can their behavior really be completely explained so cleanly by internalized racism and misogyny?

Yes, obviously. There was nothing Trump was doing or saying or promising, implicitly or explicitly, that could be considered even sane, let alone better than what Clinton was doing and saying and promising. He bragged about assaulting women, ffs. To ignore that and still to find a reason to vote for him… I mean. That’s textbook. You can’t find a purer example. There was nothing a man could do wrong that would apparently make him unqualified as long as his opponent was a woman. They forgive him everything.

You may claim you voted for Trump against Clinton because you have economic anxiety or because you’re #neverclinton or because you’re an accelerationist leftist or because you feel he tells it like it is. But you’re not fooling anyone, any more than I’m fooled when my kids claim they only ate candy for breakfast because the cereal was too crunchy or because they felt a sudden cocoa deficiency coming on or because there were too many eggs in the carton for them to confidently open it (this last one they actually tried on me this morning).

I just find it truly disheartening that any of us are in doubt about this, and that the doubt is being sown by the “left”.
posted by MiraK at 6:51 PM on April 28 [8 favorites]

I honestly cannot believe someone is still perpetuating the “economic anxiety” myth that has been debunked for years, and doubly disappointed it’s coming from someone on the left. Can we not?

Yes, it was racism and misogyny. We know this by now. Arguing otherwise is a bad look.
posted by Justinian at 7:45 PM on April 28

Assuming the sole factors for tens of millions of American voters in 2016 can be definitively generalized to racism and misogyny, what does this say about all the women and people of color who voted for Trump in greater percentages than they had previously voted for Romney?

Can their behavior really be completely explained so cleanly by internalized racism and misogyny?

Well, there were polls in 2016 saying that Americans felt things had gotten worse for race relations during the Obama years. And Trump became popular during that time partly because of Birtherism, an ugly racist and xenophobic attack.

And also, not all people of color or women are a monolith. The numbers you point to could also prove that the Trump/Republican strategy was not or not only to create divisions between white men and PoCs and women, but to create divisions among people of color and among women. And some of what Trump and Republicans did do show that. For example, there’s a significant amount of Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans that are Republicans, partly because they are against affirmative action for Black and Hispanic folks. Yet Trump also blamed China a lot on trade and climate change. Or there’s the line that Trump and the Republicans repeated over and over again that they were against “illegal” immigrants, even though their attacks were dog whistles that just attacked just immigrants in general. And then Trump would say he wanted to make a “big beautiful door” for legal immigrants that waited their turn.

I mean, wasn’t one of the things we realized about Trump in 2016 is people heard what they wanted to hear? And I think this doesn’t only work on white people either.
posted by FJT at 7:46 PM on April 28

It’s certainly very convenient for Democratic feydakin to push that the answer to “why 2016” is “racism and misogyny, THAT’S IT” insofar as it absolves them from any introspection, but I don’t know that it’s as settled a question as you think, Justinian and MiraK.
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