Every now and again I come across an article that makes me think. An article by the Washington Post on Bernie Sander’s and the blue-collar vote did get me thinking about whether Sander’s could help the party reconnect with their blue-collar roots.
On one level it makes sense. For all the voters Barack Obama has brought into the Democratic fold he has made the party shed an equal number of voters, particularly blue-collar whites.
This started even before he was elected President. In the 2008 Democratic Primary, Hillary Clinton crushed Obama in particularly blue-collar Appalachia as well as among Hispanics. It is this blue-collar vote combined with urban and upscale white population centers that Sander’s believes could give him a leg up in the primary.
But would blue-collar voters really back Sander’s in the primary. The WP article focuses on formerly blue West Virginia and interviews with several current and former UMWA (United Mine Workers of America) workers. These voters express disenchantment with Obama and a few go as far as to say they voted for Romney.
I had a few initial thoughts to this related to the state in particular and blue-collar workers in general. In relation to West Virginia, the state has not been a Democratic stalwart Presidentially since 2000. Sure, the state has been Democratic at the local level but many of those Democrats were as culturally conservative as GOP Presidential nominees. Sander’s is culturally conservative on guns but he sure is no conservative on gay marriage, religious freedom and abortion.
Nationally, blue-collar workers are not a homogeneous group politically or ideologically. For example, blue-collar workers in the South are far more conservative across the board than those in the West or Midwest. However, many are culturally conservative and fiscally moderate. Bernie is neither.
Indeed, the Sander’s camp realizes this and is downplaying their weakness on cultural issues by relentlessly focusing on class and economics. On issues of inequality, being left behind and railing against the political class the Sander’s camp has probably struck a chord with these voters.
That is great and all but it ignores just how intertwined ideology and culture are. For decades, since the 80s, Democrats have lamented how the GOP has turned former blue-collar Democrats into Republican stalwarts. This would not have happened if not for divisive battles over abortion, gay marriage and religion had not played out nationally.
Likewise, Democrats would be unlikely to have captured so much of the youth vote if not for their focus on abortion, gay marriage and racism.
I would be remiss if I did not note that another obstacle facing Sander’s is his trust in government. Sander’s talks of expanding government in a massive new way in every speech-single payer healthcare, increasing pell grants and subsidies, new regulations on banks, etc. Some of his ideas have broad support such as taxing Wall-Street fat cats and reining in our foreign interventionist policies but those are about as likely to become reality as I becoming a millionaire tomorrow.
Can these policies outweigh his overwhelming love for government to blue-collar workers? Probably not. Blue-collar workers have become increasingly hostile to government and talk of higher taxes against people only sounds good when it is geared towards smart government, not bigger government, policies.
Of course, this is discussing more a general electorate. In the Democratic primary it is probably safe to say that many blue-collar workers that still associate with the party do so out of ancestral loyalty.
Just look at the South. Many Southern states still have more registered Democrats than Republicans, yet the GOP is in solid control of the region at virtually every level. Getting these ancestral Democrats to vote for a candidate in love with government is a hard sell.
The numbers in Appalachia bear this out. In 2008, blacks made up a majority of the Democratic primary electorate in a majority of Southern states. Only in Arkansas, West Virginia and North Carolina (by a slim margin) did whites make up a majority of the electorate. This is not a recipe for electoral success, especially when you consider Hillary seems to have a solid lock on the minority vote.
Of course things could change. Biden entering the race would split the traditional liberal vote two ways and give Sander’s yet another chance to rail against the establishment. But for all that, Sander’s would still be stuck with the big-government and culturally liberal persona he personifies. Neither is fit with blue-collar voter