Democrats have a problem. No, it’s not an electoral vote problem? No, it’s not a diversity problem. It’s that the white working class, particularly white working class men, have turned away from the party in droves. These voters stuck with the President in 2012 in key races across the rest of the country over a wealthy executive. In 2014, those same voters in those same states finally turned to the GOP.
Democrats believe they have an answer in economic populism. They also believe they have a strong candidate in 2016 to help them carry their message forward, Hillary Clinton. Just one problem, Clinton is championing using the government to champion the working class’s rights. The same government these individuals have turned away from in dramatic fashion. How likely are voters to go for a candidate championing using a government that has harmed them to help them? Not much.
Case in point. Polls show that white working class voters are increasingly pessimistic about the future. When the Pew Research Center asked in 2012 whether they expected their children to enjoy a better standard of living only 41% of whites were optimistic. More illuminating Romney captured 59% of the white vote (the number who were not optimistic about their kids futures).
Democrats are not blind to this problem especially because they know if they do not make inroads with these voters they will suffer in midterms. Being locked out of control of the House ensures divided government in perpetuity. Second, it locks them out of control of state legislatures and ever gaining access to Governorships in red or red leaning states. Considering many policies are first tested at the state level this could mean Democratic ideas stagnate over time.
Identity politics has to be considered a major culprit. Former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, a prospective Democratic candidate for President says “I think this is where Democrats screw up, you know?” told Yahoo News recently. “I think that they have kind of unwittingly used this group, white working males, as a whipping post for a lot of their policies. And then when they react, they say they’re being racist.”
Such a reaction from whites is not just relegated to the working class. In 2014, white males with a college degree overwhelmingly backed Republicans in statewide federal and Congressional races. In such blue states as Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts the Republican candidates for Governor largely won due to this new strength.
Democrats answer to this problem is fairly simple. They will try to convince these voters they have common cause with the party on campaign finance reform and fiscal policy by railing against big banks and secret donors. But this overlooks the fact these same voters are more socially conservative than the general public and thus will unlikely find cultural cause to vote for the Democratic candidate.
If this plan fails other Democrats have varying ideas on how to accomplish such a task. Some like Webb want the party to downplay identity politics, others like Senator Chuck Schumer of NY want the party to more aggressively promote the benefits government can provide them. Yet another idea has been promoted by Stanley Greenburg, a veteran of the Clinton White House and a Democratic pollster. Greenburg wants the party to pursue campaign finance reform (they are genius) and to promote a more streamlined, efficient government.
There are only a couple of problems with such a plan. First, Republicans have already captured the rhetorical high ground on streamlining government by calling for “reform.” Second, the Democratic base composed of numerous beneficiaries of government policy is unlikely to want to turn out for a party that doesn’t champion promoting more government. In 2012, only a minority of the voting public identified as working class meaning such a strategy works against the party’s electoral interests.
Either way, Democrats won’t get a majority of this voting bloc’s support next year. They may not even break 40%. For as the working class has been left behind by Democrats they have turned to a GOP desperate for new votes. Democrats will likely give this group plenty of attention next year ie. Hillary Clinton saying “The deck is still stacked in favor of those already at the top,” she said. “There’s something wrong when CEOs make 300 times more than the typical worker…. And there’s something wrong when hedge fund managers pay lower tax rates than nurses.” It just probably won’t change much.