Why Americans Don’t Vote Their Class Anymore
April 28, 2020 9:35 AM   Subscribe

Why Americans Don’t Vote Their Class AnymoreNew 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 (122 comments total) 22 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 [43 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 [31 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 [40 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 [11 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 [1 favorite]


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 [10 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 [18 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 [15 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 [4 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 [74 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 [14 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 [1 favorite]


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 [8 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 [7 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 [8 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 [1 favorite]


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 [3 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 [9 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 [11 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 [10 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 [5 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 [24 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 [6 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 [11 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 [15 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 [12 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 [2 favorites]


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 [7 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 [17 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 [2 favorites]


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 [5 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 [6 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 [16 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 [10 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 [41 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 [24 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 [4 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 [10 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 [13 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 [1 favorite]


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 [2 favorites]


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 [9 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 [2 favorites]


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 [22 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 [10 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 [5 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 [5 favorites]


> 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 [2 favorites]


"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 [28 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 [15 favorites]


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 [5 favorites]


The problem is the article talks only in terms of single causes - it argues that there has been a shift in what the important cause is from socioeconomic class to education.

>Levitz here is saying that by an large, college-educated Democrats (what Piketty calls Brahmin elitists) do not in fact vote leftist.

I don't read him as saying that at all - in fact, many of his proceeding paragraphs talk directly about how college education encourages support for social democracy as proxied by Sanders support. I read him as giving a further argument via extreme example that college education can cause political realignment. "Far left Marxists often come from very academic contexts; shouldn't weaker academic experience be able to cause people to adopt weak progressive positions?" It is a pretty strange argument, but certainly isn't that college educated voters don't vote 'true' leftist.

I can see how you might see parallels between the article's college educated progressive voters and Piketty's Brahmin, but the two arguments don't really match up. And more importantly, both neglect the importance of race in US politics.

> 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.

This, exactly.
posted by Ktm1 at 11:56 PM on April 28 [3 favorites]


I read him as giving a further argument via extreme example that college education can cause political realignment. "Far left Marxists often come from very academic contexts; shouldn't weaker academic experience be able to cause people to adopt weak progressive positions?" It is a pretty strange argument, but certainly isn't that college educated voters don't vote 'true' leftist.

I believe that college education usually works to dispel fear of the other by putting "others" in close proximity to each other and proving that the other is not that different or threatening through sheer osmosis. It's almost like racial exposure therapy.

College graduates have a far better success rate in this economy than non-college graduates. People like me have a far greater vested interest in not tearing the whole system down and starting from scratch and believing that capitalism can be restrained by regulation and a vigilant body politic. When I vote for lefty parties (like I would vote Greens in the #1 preference instead of Labor back home) it's because I have a good life and think this should be the default for everybody. Society has the resources, it's just a question of distribution that needs to be fixed.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 5:20 AM on April 29 [5 favorites]


The problem is the article talks only in terms of single causes - it argues that there has been a shift in what the important cause is from socioeconomic class to education.

Which again misses the point - education is part of socioeconomic class. This was something that I thought was illustrated well by the three ladder system model of class - entering into the Gentry from Labor is a matter of prioritizing education over trade skills.

The reality is that what has traditionally been thought of as "class" in a socialist/Marxist sense doesn't really hold anymore - today, "class" encapsulates many factors that have not been weighted highly in the past.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:47 AM on April 29 [3 favorites]


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".

I am far more disheartened by exceedingly comfortable liberals washing their hands of taking care of incredibly vulnerable women and people of color in red states far away from where they live just because asking questions about why their particular ideology keeps losing so much political power is too uncomfortable for them.

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?

If you really think that's what I am arguing, I suggest you read my comments again. And maybe try answering the questions posed instead of reflexively going after a convenient straw man.
posted by Ouverture at 9:06 AM on April 29 [6 favorites]


To restate: why did so many white voters leave the Democratic party in the 90s when the Democrats were explicitly trying to be as racist, misogynistic, and homophobic as the Republicans? The entire point of the New Democrats was to retain and expand this specific segment of voters.

And conversely: why did so many people of color and women stay home or vote for Trump when the Democrats were explicitly trying to win over their votes? The entire point of the post-Obama coalition was to retain and expand these two segments of voters.

How do racism and misogyny completely explain these two phenomena? What exactly changed in 8 years, during which Obama won two presidential elections and elevated countless talented women to various positions of power, for internalized racism and misogyny to completely transform the minds of millions of women and people of color?

Is it scarier to question one's political ideology than face even more stunning losses of political power?
posted by Ouverture at 9:10 AM on April 29 [6 favorites]


why did so many white voters leave the Democratic party in the 90s when the Democrats were explicitly trying to be as racist, misogynistic, and homophobic as the Republicans? The entire point of the New Democrats was to retain and expand this specific segment of voters.

Why did that car escape that dog when the dog was explicitly trying to be as fast as it? The whole point of running towards it was to catch it.
posted by PMdixon at 9:49 AM on April 29 [2 favorites]


How do racism and misogyny completely explain these two phenomena?

Okay, well, I don't think racism and misogyny explain ALL of it, but it does explain a large amount. I mean, Trump did go after free trade in 2016, but he went after China, South Korea, and Mexico way more than Germany or Canada.
posted by FJT at 9:52 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]


To restate: why did so many white voters leave the Democratic party in the 90s when the Democrats were explicitly trying to be as racist, misogynistic, and homophobic as the Republicans?

Because you're assuming your conclusion. They were not, in fact, explicitly trying to be as racist, misogynistic, and homophobic as the Republicans. That isn't to say they weren't being all of those things but they were being less so. You're stating it as fact when it isn't.
posted by Justinian at 9:55 AM on April 29 [15 favorites]


I am far more disheartened by exceedingly comfortable liberals washing their hands of taking care of incredibly vulnerable women and people of color in red states far away from where they live just because asking questions about why their particular ideology keeps losing so much political power is too uncomfortable for them.

It takes emotional energy to keep fighting these constant battles towards progress. In America with ever three steps forward others who want to stop you will cause society to take two steps back. A lot of people who have been fighting are just plain exhausted from having to fight tooth and nail for a single inch in a lot of these places. Some may join, some may continue the fight, others may not. You can't blame people for not wanting to actively decide to push a rock up the hill for others. People can't keep grinding themselves emotionally to dust lest they be called comfortable about a situation they're not even proximally responsible for. It's unfair to them.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 10:04 AM on April 29 [3 favorites]


Because you're assuming your conclusion. They were not, in fact, explicitly trying to be as racist, misogynistic, and homophobic as the Republicans. That isn't to say they weren't being all of those things but they were being less so. You're stating it as fact when it isn't.

This was the entire mission of the New Democrats and the Democratic Leadership Council though. After over a decade in the Reaganite wilderness, the whole idea was to move the Democrats significantly to the right to compete for these votes.

This is why, during the '92 campaign, Bill Clinton went back to Arkansas to personally oversee the execution of Ricky Ray Rector. It was why he started that '92 campaign at Stone Mountain, the birthplace of the second Ku Klux Klan. It was why we had the '94 Crime Bill, devastating cuts to welfare, and the Defense of Marriage Act during these years of "liberal" power.

There were certainly plenty of Republicans who wanted to do much worse, but it wasn't the GOP that twisted Bill Clinton's arm into bombing a medicine factory in Sudan or deregulating securities.

But let's say the essentialist worldview being put forth is truly the case here. Why did the New Democrats still retain reliable votes from people of color during these years? Was it just purely internalized racism?

And then what happened in 2000? And 2004? And during all the elections during the Obama years where the Democrats lost so much political power across the ballot? Did the Republicans introduce something into the water to increase the internalized misogyny and racism of people of color and women?

Does this essentialized worldview hold up during primaries? Did Obama beat Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primary because of internalized misogyny? Did Sanders outperform Clinton with younger voters in both primaries because of internalized anti-youthfulness? Did Clinton outperform Sanders with older voters because of internalized ageism?

And more importantly, what is the path forward? Does it mean that Democrats need to compete with Trump in 2020 on being more racist and sexist in order to win the votes of these people of color and women who are so deeply, singularly poisoned by internalized prejudice in 2020? Should we expect more racist campaign ads like this one from Biden?

It takes emotional energy to keep fighting these constant battles towards progress. In America with ever three steps forward others who want to stop you will cause society to take two steps back. A lot of people who have been fighting are just plain exhausted from having to fight tooth and nail for a single inch in a lot of these places. Some may join, some may continue the fight, others may not. You can't blame people for not wanting to actively decide to push a rock up the hill for others. People can't keep grinding themselves emotionally to dust lest they be called comfortable about a situation they're not even proximally responsible for. It's unfair to them.

But it seems to take no emotional energy to construct strawmen and punch left it seems. It seems to take no energy to simultaneously call the left an insignificant minority group while also laying the blame for all the electoral failures of the Democrats at our feet. Or provide endless excuses and defenses for a war criminal and/or rapist, as long as she or he has the right political affiliation.

I have been an activist and an organizer my entire life because my life and the lives of my people are inherently political and have been under threat regardless of what political party is in power in America. If people need breaks, they should take them. But laying the blame at my feet won't change the history made by all these very problematic faves.
posted by Ouverture at 10:24 AM on April 29 [6 favorites]


Here is a useful (and very rosy) look into the Democratic Leadership Council, for anyone who was curious about what their explicit mission:
Over the course of its 16-year history, the DLC has been consistent on its core principles: support for fiscal discipline, free trade, reinventing government along more free-market lines, a strong military, welfare reform, a tough-on-crime approach, and a generally pro-business outlook. The organization has tended to bounce around some on social issues, such as abortion and gay rights, which went almost unmentioned in DLC policy statements in the 1980s, and on race.

At its founding, the DLC's chief emphasis was on reconnecting the Democratic Party to white working- and middle-class class voters, who, the DLCers feared, had been increasingly attracted by the Republican Party's social conservatism, especially among northern ethnics and southern Protestants. To the DLC of the 1980s, that meant a message that was less tilted toward minorities and welfare, less radical on social issues like abortion and gays, more pro-defense, and more conservative on economic issues--in other words, less liberal generally. The DLC thundered against the "liberal fundamentalism" of the party's base--unionists, blacks, feminists, Greens, and cause groups generally.
posted by Ouverture at 10:35 AM on April 29 [2 favorites]


Instead of berating people for not agreeing that the DLC are just Republicans in different branding, it would be more productive to ask why they don't agree with that thesis - a number of us have pointed out why we don't agree with the argument. And no, saying that they're not the same doesn't serve as absolution for the sins of the DLC - all it's saying is that people see a difference between the groups, and that difference is what has driven these political shifts.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:16 AM on April 29 [11 favorites]


Additionally, man we're just trying to prevent Trump getting re-elected at this point. Spending literally years doing basically nothing but talking about how awful, evil, and despicable the Democrats are starts to wear after a while. One almost starts to believe you're an accelerationist.
posted by Justinian at 11:23 AM on April 29 [16 favorites]


Instead of berating people for not agreeing that the DLC are just Republicans in different branding, it would be more productive to ask why they don't agree with that thesis - a number of us have pointed out why we don't agree with the argument. And no, saying that they're not the same doesn't serve as absolution for the sins of the DLC - all it's saying is that people see a difference between the groups, and that difference is what has driven these political shifts.

I have never said these groups are the same, but that the DLC was explicitly making a play for the same voters. That was their entire mission.

I am responding to an above argument that claims it is solely racism and misogyny (internalized and otherwise) that can definitively and conclusively explain changes in voting patterns in 2016. When a singular cause can so completely explain the behavior of millions of people, this borders on a form of essentializing science and that is when I start getting really interested in seeing the work.

I would love to learn more about how this applies to prior elections and political shifts in the Democratic party, especially in light of the data in the FP article. And if this race/gender science perspective is really all that explains how to win elections, what should Biden and the Democrats do in 2020?

Additionally, man we're just trying to prevent Trump getting re-elected at this point. Spending literally years doing basically nothing but talking about how awful, evil, and despicable the Democrats are starts to wear after a while. One almost starts to believe you're an accelerationist.

Personal attacks are not an effective substitute for defending your point of view.
posted by Ouverture at 11:30 AM on April 29 [5 favorites]


[One deleted. I don't even know what to suggest here, but the point of this site is not to be twitter with sick burns, and it's not to resolve forever who's The Worst, Left or Liberal - there are other places online for that kind of endless fight. We're trying to be a space for actual conversation between people who want to be talking to each other.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:59 AM on April 29 [7 favorites]


Why did the New Democrats still retain reliable votes from people of color during these years? Was it just purely internalized racism? And then what happened in 2000? And 2004? And during all the elections during the Obama years where the Democrats lost so much political power across the ballot? Did the Republicans introduce something into the water to increase the internalized misogyny and racism of people of color and women?

I get the sense that you're trying to argue that people of color should have voted for a (nonexistent) non-racist third party instead, Ouverture. Are you? Or perhaps you're trying to suggest that people of color should have started a revolution maybe? I have no idea.

I'm confused about that whole series of questions, because to me, it seems kind of obvious that people of color vote Democrat in spite of Democrats being racist af because people of color do not want Republicans to come to power because Republicans want to kill us even quicker. Like, what is the point of disagreement here? Are you actually confused about why PoC vote reliably Democrat, because you honest-to-goodness believe that Democrat politics are precisely and exactly as racist as Republican politics?
posted by MiraK at 12:29 PM on April 29 [16 favorites]


> Joe in Australia: "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. [...] That's clearly not the way things work. If politics is about anything, it's about narrative."

There's a book that I've been meaning to finish called Democracy for Realists by two political science professors which more or less argues this (or something very similar). They call that first model -- i.e.: voters care about some issues, they compare politicians' platforms on those issues, and vote according to whoever aligns best -- the "folk theory of democracy". I've only gotten through the first third or so of the book where they discuss all the evidence that makes that so-caled folk theory implausible at best.

I've only skimmed the latter parts of that book where they present their counter-theory but to me, it seems like their thesis can be (glibly) summarized as "all politics is identity politics". In other words, people largely pick a political identity first, and their politics (including stances on policies) follow from that. I should probably get around to finishing that book.
posted by mhum at 12:45 PM on April 29 [2 favorites]


When a singular cause can so completely explain the behavior of millions of people, this borders on a form of essentializing science and that is when I start getting really interested in seeing the work.

I don't think there is much value in going back 20+ years and trying to figure out election policies of today - with going on 13 years of straight Republican as a president back then, it's not that crazy that a wing of the opposition party would be interested in peeling off a subset of those voters. And that group dissolved almost a decade ago.

In other words, people largely pick a political identity first, and their politics (including stances on policies) follow from that.

I would go farther and say politicians pick a party first most likely to get them elected, as Republican vs Democrat (at least at the state level) has not been very consistent across the states and party among individual candidates has been variable. I think it's becoming more consistent with Trump, but it's still variable, as Manchin vs Khana in the article demonstrates.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:51 PM on April 29


I get the sense that you're trying to argue that people of color should have voted for a (nonexistent) non-racist third party instead, Ouverture. Are you? Or perhaps you're trying to suggest that people of color should have started a revolution maybe? I have no idea.

I'm not arguing that at all.

When presented with a white supremacist Democrat and a white supremacist Republican, I believe everyone should make the heartbreaking decision to vote for the white supremacist Democrat while working tirelessly the rest of the 4 years to build local, state, labor, and national power so we don't have to make those horrible decisions in the future. After all, that's what so many Sanders supporters did in 2016 and it has played a huge factor in shifting the Democrats and the country's electorate to the left on many issues.

I'm confused about that whole series of questions, because to me, it seems kind of obvious that people of color vote Democrat in spite of Democrats being racist af because people of color do not want Republicans to come to power because Republicans want to kill us even quicker.

But as mentioned repeatedly, they didn't do that in 2016. Many voted for Clinton, but a critical number also stayed home or voted for Trump despite having voted for Obama twice in the previous 8 years. And this isn't the only paradox in how people have voted in recent years.

"That whole series of questions", just like the article in the FP, is to help understand why people vote the way they do and why parties end up the way they are. I'm not even interested in whether what the Democrats did is good or bad; in this particular conversation, I am far more interested in understanding why and when they were(n't) successful.

Without building that understanding, Democrats will continue to face devastating losses up and down the ballot for the foreseeable future. They will give up on helping already marginalized people of color, women, and poor folks in red states. And I would much rather fight for power in a world where white supremacist Democrats are the most right-wing party in America instead of one where Republicans maintain permanent white majority rule.
posted by Ouverture at 4:24 PM on April 29 [3 favorites]


Wait, so what are you saying? The reason so many Obama voters switched to Trump was because... Clinton wasn't labor-friendly enough? Even though she ran on a waaay lefter platform than Obama did (thanks to Sanders)? And these voters chose Trump over her ... because they thought Trump was more labor-friendly?

Hmm... perhaps you're saying that liberal college-educated elitism within Democrat ranks grew so suddenly and precipitously during the Obama presidency that the working class felt unwelcome within the party and therefore they voted for ... Trump.

I'm trying to find a way to steel-man your thesis but failing..
posted by MiraK at 4:41 PM on April 29 [5 favorites]


I'm not saying either of those things. I am trying to understand how a singular cause essentialized to one's race and/or gender can determine the voting patterns of millions of people. I'm generally pretty skeptical of essentialization, especially applied to so many different people.

And then if that's actually the case, what should Democrats do in 2020 and beyond?
posted by Ouverture at 4:46 PM on April 29


I'm generally pretty skeptical of essentialization, especially applied to so many different people.

I'm not sure what's wrong with noting that racism and misogyny are deep seated and pervasive across America and indeed across billions of people the world over. It's so bogglingly mundane that you may have accused me of 'essentialism' for saying the sky is blue - yes, everywhere on earth, even though there are indeed a wide variety of places on earth.

And then if that's actually the case, what should Democrats do in 2020 and beyond?

This time they seem to have played along with the racism and misogyny and nominated a white dude: a racist and sexist electorate's version of "desperate times call for desperate measures". Next time, I hope we nominate, idk, a fat black lesbian Satanist in a wheelchair? Because I believe in doubling down, not cowering.

The problem with your question here is that it presupposes that the 2016 loss was the Democrats' fault and therefore they need to do something differently. Dude. The man boasted about committing crimes and still got elected, and you think the other party's "mistakes" (which you will only darkly hint at) are what caused the loss?! This is literally the "But what was she wearing?" of electoral losses. It's textbook misogyny. Ask not what the Democrats' should do differently. Ask what you can do to stop the white supremacists and misogynists.
posted by MiraK at 5:14 PM on April 29 [7 favorites]


Ouverture, I find it difficult to believe that the slim percentage of POC who voted for Trump after voting for Obama twice were "critical". The issue was primarily a matter of Clinton voters vs. people who stayed home.
posted by Selena777 at 5:27 PM on April 29 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure what's wrong with noting that racism and misogyny are deep seated and pervasive across America and indeed across billions of people the world over. It's so bogglingly mundane that you may have accused me of 'essentialism' for saying the sky is blue - yes, everywhere on earth, even though there are indeed a wide variety of places on earth.

If these biases are so completely deep-seated, permanent, and pervasive, how did Obama win twice? How did Clinton come so close to winning?

The essentialism is saying this is the only reason millions of people voted the way they did because of their race and/or gender.

The problem with your question here is that it presupposes that the 2016 loss was the Democrats' fault and therefore they need to do something differently. Dude. The man boasted about committing crimes and still got elected, and you think the other party's "mistakes" (which you will only darkly hint at) are what caused the loss?! This is literally the "But what was she wearing?" of electoral losses. It's textbook misogyny. Ask not what the Democrats' should do differently. Ask what you can do to stop the white supremacists and misogynists.

If the Democrats have absolutely no responsibility for their stunning loss in 2016, then what's the point of introspection, analysis, or discussion? Do they also have no responsibility for their victories in 2018? The comparison of this discussion to sexual assault is horrifyingly inappropriate, especially considering Biden's victory in the primary.

Moreover, I'm not sure why you are putting quotes in "mistakes" since I never said that nor even hinted at it.
posted by Ouverture at 5:32 PM on April 29 [2 favorites]


If these biases are so completely deep-seated, permanent, and pervasive, how did Obama win twice? How did Clinton come so close to winning?

Yeah because that's how racism and sexism work: every infected bot activates at once and tilts its head at exactly the same angle for every election. LOL.

I never said ["mistakes"] nor even hinted at it.

Oh?

If the Democrats have absolutely no responsibility for their stunning loss in 2016, then what's the point...
posted by MiraK at 5:50 PM on April 29 [2 favorites]


The level of fraud involved, the slim margins in a couple of critical states, and the fact that Clinton won more votes makes it more than a bit tiresome to be told repeatedly that the fault lies not with the criminal but with his victims. Apparently a criminal fucking conspiracy including interference by the FBI and foreign interests is the woman's fault. Or at least the Democratic Party's fault.

That isn't to say there aren't things that could have been done better, but trying to use the results of the 2016 election as evidence of anything but the ability for people to get away with their crimes seems..off.
posted by wierdo at 5:55 PM on April 29 [10 favorites]


I'm sorry, is someone seriously arguing that Obama being elected and Clinton's nomination is proof that racism and misogyny aren't pervasive?
posted by schroedinger at 5:56 PM on April 29 [7 favorites]


As far as I can tell they're not arguing that, but that's not stopping people from accusing them of it.
posted by AdamCSnider at 6:19 PM on April 29 [4 favorites]


I am not arguing that racism and misogyny are not pervasive due to electoral successes for individual minority politicians. In fact, I strongly believe that advances in individual representation do not track with group progress!

But I also do not believe that the actions of millions of people can be so easily reduced to a form of race and gender essentialism, whether it's the 2016 election or any other. I want to see the evidence and understand how this can be true given all the counterfactuals I have brought up (and have yet to receive any responses to).
posted by Ouverture at 6:25 PM on April 29 [4 favorites]


There are many studies that have shown that racism was a/the primary motivating factor in the shifts in 2016. Here is one that deals specifically with white voters who switched from Obama to Trump since that is a popular example. Vox article on it:
A new study shows that this response isn’t as powerful as it may seem. The study, from three political scientists from around the country, takes a statistical look at a large sample of Obama-Trump switchers. It finds that these voters tended to score highly on measures of racial hostility and xenophobia — and were not especially likely to be suffering economically.
The response referred to in the first sentence is the idea that these voters were motivated by economic anxiety rather than racial anxiety.
posted by Justinian at 6:57 PM on April 29 [7 favorites]


I want to see the evidence and understand how this can be true given all the counterfactuals I have brought up (and have yet to receive any responses to).

Umm, we have provided proof and I even wrote that at least one of your counterfactuals could be interpreted in a different way, and it's proof of what you're claiming.

Wait. Isn't this sealioning. This is sealioning. Right?
posted by FJT at 8:02 PM on April 29 [7 favorites]


If higher education is correlated with more progressive attitudes, then it would be in Democrats' interest to get everyone into college, no?
posted by Pyry at 8:12 PM on April 29 [1 favorite]


The "racism/sexism did 2016" position is psychologically useful because it prevents introspection and shunts responsibility for electoral losses to the Bad Guys, you're not going to be able to logic someone out of it.

Are your really resorting to saying that people who hold different views or perspectives are simply not being "logical"?

The favorite fallback argument of shitty soon-to-be ex-boyfriends everywhere.
posted by FJT at 8:16 PM on April 29 [7 favorites]


We don't need arguments, logical or otherwise, when we have data such as the study I posted (and the many others coming to the same conclusion.) People don't need to present an argument you find logically persuasive as to why racism played a very large and likely determinative role in the 2016 election when the data says that.
posted by Justinian at 8:42 PM on April 29 [6 favorites]


The data says it was exclusively racism and misogyny that determined the 2016 election? Isn't that the argument that was being made upthread? I certainly agree that they were important factors, is anyone disagreeing with that?
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 8:44 PM on April 29 [4 favorites]


If higher education is correlated with more progressive attitudes, then it would be in Democrats' interest to get everyone into college, no?

Oh but you don't understand, Pyry.

A major political upheaval happened in 1972. Losing to Nixon made Democrats decide to unceremoniously dump their riff-raff working class voter base for unknown reasons and embark on a strategy to court a new voter base of college-educated suburbanites (I'm not making this up, this is what the article literally says happened). This caused the flip alluded to in the tagline of the article: Democrats went from the party of labor to the party of the educated elite.

HOWEVER! Colleges make people vote left and as we all have been schooled to understand by now, Democrats are decidedly not the left. Therefore your point about college education helping Democrats build a bigger base is invalid! Because colleges are hotbeds of LEFTIST indoctrination, not Democrat indoctrination! Ta da!

(Pay no attention to the charts and data which correlate college with Democratic voting.)

(Your head may hurt but it's okay. The main thing to understand is that the Democratic Party made a fatal, unforgivable error by not overturning 3+ million primary votes in 2016 so that Bernard Sanders could be anointed the Democratic nominee. Forever and ever, amen.)
posted by MiraK at 8:49 PM on April 29 [5 favorites]


The data says it was exclusively racism and misogyny that determined the 2016 election?

Yes. There is no other factor for which there's any evidence that it was significant in determining people's votes. The election having been hacked is another matter altogether.
posted by MiraK at 8:56 PM on April 29 [2 favorites]


[Couple comments removed. If you can't manage to not needlessly be a jerk while commenting, you're not going to keep commenting here, so make a choice.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:01 PM on April 29 [2 favorites]


The election fuckery brought the margins close enough in a few states for the racism and misogyny to be the deciding factor. And isn't that hard of a concept, but it doesn't make for a simple narrative that pleases the gut, it creates indigestion, so we humans like to focus on one thing or the other.
posted by wierdo at 9:21 PM on April 29 [4 favorites]


If racism and misogyny were the biggest factors in the 2016 presidential election then picking Joe Biden was a good choice.

If a large section of the public loathing the democratic candidate and an ineptly run campaign were larger factors then picking Joe Biden was the second worst realistic option only over Bloomberg.

If the awful state of the economy for working class people in 2016 was the biggest factor then Trump is doomed and even Bloomberg would crush him in November.
posted by zymil at 10:14 PM on April 29 [1 favorite]


Misogyny and racism might not have been directly responsible for Clinton losing, but they're definitely the reason why so many people accepted Republican claims even when they were obviously evil and self-serving. The Republicans' message was all about fear of strangers and of people taking away their entitlements. And who's going to do that? The people who want change. And when people are afraid of change they support the status-quo either directly or by failing to vote.

Don't forget: before Trump beat Clinton he beat the other Republican candidates. He's bad at most things, but he's very good at attacking his opponents and sowing doubt in the minds of their supporters. People talk about “Trump's mirror” and that he's typically guilty of the things he ascribes to his opponents, but that technique would be useless unless people were predisposed to believe the allegations. Goodness knows Clinton has her faults, but she's very smart and very capable and could undoubtedly have earned a great deal more in the private sector. Why did people swallow Trump's assertions that he, a multiply-bankrupt reality star and casino operator was more competent and reliable than she was? Misogyny.

Similarly, racism isn't enough for most people to actively wish that POCs suffer and starve and die young, but when they're faced with allegations about welfare fraud and exploitation their implicit racism makes them just a little cooler - they become more ready to sit on their hands, or agree to waiting periods and entitlement checks and all the other paraphernalia that supposedly makes sure that nobody benefits excessively. And as a consequence, people think the candidates supporting these measures are the trustworthy ones, the reliable stewards of the people's money.

Four years of Trump have probably made the electorate even more paranoid and less generous than they were before, but at least they've seen the effects of his governance and they actually will want change – even if it's just a basic safety bet. It's going to be a lot harder to make them afraid of women and POCs when they have real things like plagues and economic collapse to worry about.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:04 PM on April 29 [5 favorites]


but at least they've seen the effects of his governance and they actually will want change – even if it's just a basic safety bet.

For some. For his base they want more chaos and more liberal tears.

From my perspective the dynamics of this election are the attenuating base of Trump vs everyone else. Running Biden is trying to make the "everyone else" as wide as possible. A tenuously educated guess from me would be that Biden and Bernie would probably get almost the same popular vote and win that popular vote by the same margins if we ran both elections at the same time. The difference is Bernie would almost certainly lose WI/MI/PA and just run up the score in liberal bastions. This is great if you want to show how the system damn well sucks but what will actually fix things is achieving governance.

Of course if Biden does step down (as he should) because of the Tara Reade allegations, and we do get a Bernie nom, then we're going to have to work like hell to get turnout in battlegrounds.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 4:53 AM on April 30 [4 favorites]


Joe, when someone is more likely to believe rmail-related lies about a woman as being a huge! scandal! while forgiving outrageous crimes committed brazenly out in the open by a man, that's DIRECT misogyny. If Hillary had been a man and running against a female Donald Trump, would the election have been close? The misogyny is not at all hidden or indirect.

And similarly for racism.
posted by MiraK at 4:55 AM on April 30 [3 favorites]


Four years of Trump have probably made the electorate even more paranoid and less generous than they were before, but at least they've seen the effects of his governance and they actually will want change – even if it's just a basic safety bet. It's going to be a lot harder to make them afraid of women and POCs when they have real things like plagues and economic collapse to worry about.

LOL. As far as I can tell the current Republican line is something close to women and POC having made up fake plagues in order to cause economic collapse. There will be no turning away by the base. At best the rest of everyone else can agree to a strategy of containment towards them.
posted by PMdixon at 5:33 AM on April 30 [5 favorites]


One of the things which might be the wild card is that a few nevertrumper conservatives are advertising that they're seeing some of their friends who were "I hate Trump but I can't vote Hillary" are backtracking on a Biden vote. Conservative crossover is definitely a thing happening among women in Republican suburbs and exurbs but the male side of things is looking more and more obstinant.

It looks like even the Republicans who aren't getting high off their own supply are deciding to go along with it even as they privately scorn his name. I guess they're getting more and more confident about being able to channel Trump to their will even if they lose both houses in the process. A party only needs 40 senators to filibuster, and the other needs 67 votes to impeach or override a veto. It might become the Republican's own 2010 where they basically become a rump holding hope on being able to stop a liberal tide from executive action. Liberals can run up whatever score they want in California, New York, and Illionis but as long as they can sway the mid-west they can keep at least keep the executive and do as much damage to the judiciary as they can. Then, once they can't keep a hold of the mid-west, it falls to the newly minted conservative courts to block a liberal legislature's priorities.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 7:09 AM on April 30


There are many studies that have shown that racism was a/the primary motivating factor in the shifts in 2016.

Yes, I agree with you. But "a/primary motivating factor" is not the same thing as the race/gender essentialism initially posited above and that had kicked off this entire discussion.

Also, it's not as clear cut as your summary of the cited study. In fact, that study makes it point to disaggregate between racism and anti-immigrant sentiment. Of course, racism and anti-immigrant sentiment are very closely related (just take a look at most of my life history in America), but as the cited study demonstrates, they are also not the same thing.

For example, white working-class Democrat votes skyrocket so high in terms of relationship to switching to Trump for county level Latino population growth (on page 20) that it merits expanding the y-axis scale, However, the same voting group scores in the same ballpark as other white Democrat segments on racial attitudes. Meanwhile, it's the racial attitudes of non-working class whites that significantly outpaces those of working class whites in terms of vote-switching to Trump:

https://i.imgur.com/BBRVdg1.png

There is also a very compelling and useful appendix item (Appendix K, page 57) that discusses why racially conservative voters supported Obama in 2012:
There is evidence that racial attitudes have become more strongly associated with a variety of outcomes over time, including between 2012 and 2016. Enders and Scott (2018) show that correlations between racial resentment and party identification, ideology, presidential candidate thermometer ratings, voting, and attitudes towards health insurance and government services strengthened between 2012 and 2016. Using different data, Tesler (2016c) shows that racial attitudes mattered more in 2016 voting than in 2008 or 2012, helping explain why some racial conservatives were still supporting Obama in 2012. Indeed, Tesler (2016a) shows that fully a quarter of Whites who strongly opposed interracial dating still supported Obama in 2012. Finally, Sides (2017) finds that attitudes related to immigration, religion, and race were more salient to voter decision making in 2016 than in 2012 and that this pattern is not found for other attitudes.

How could this be the case? First, we argue that race and immigration were more salient in 2016 than in 2012. President Trump was more explicitly racial in his appeals than any previous candidate, shifting norms around what sort of prejudiced beliefs and rhetoric is socially acceptable (Schaffner 2018). Similarly, Clinton moved to the left of Obama on a number of racerelated issues. As Gillon (2016) shows, Obama actually spoke less about race than other recent Democratic candidates.
That said, I find this article from the very Democrat-friendly American Prospect, which cites findings from a pro-Clinton super-PAC, to be persuasive in understanding what changed in 2016:
Polling and focus groups conducted last month by the pro-Clinton SuperPAC Priorities USA showed that Obama-Trump voters worried greatly about dropping standards of living, and felt that Democrats had become a party of the rich, disconnected from the needs of white working-class Americans. The drop-off voters who had voted for Obama in 2012 but failed to vote in 2016 were also deeply economically anxious, and while they have a strong distaste for Republicans and Trump, they often felt that Democrats would do little to improve their own situations.

The Priorities USA study reflects the findings from other data. As pollster Stan Greenberg noted in this summer’s Prospect, Democratic support has declined not just with working-class whites, but also with the entire working-class coalition that once made up a crucial element of the Obama electorate. This disenchantment with Democratic economics is found in minority and millennial voters, for whom the economic “progress” much touted by both Obama and Clinton is more illusion than reality.

The same 2016 National Election Study that showed high correlations of cultural anxiety with support for Trump also showed that Trump voters skewed lower in income than the supporters of previous GOP nominees. Correspondingly, the 2016 exit polls also revealed a cratering in lower-income voters’ support for Democrats: Those making under $50,000 per year shifted from Obama to Trump by 21 points, even as those making over $100,000 per year shifted from Romney to Clinton by 9 points.

It's also important to note that most studies minimizing the effect of economic anxiety tend to use raw income as their objective correlative for anxiety. But this is a fundamental error: Downward mobility, high rates of opioid addiction, prevalence of subprime loans, lack of good jobs for younger generations, and the susceptibility of jobs to automation and outsourcing can all generate anxiety. Even where incomes are nominally in the middle class, those communities in most rapid economic decline were likeliest to be for Trump.
Your cited study does account for mobility, but I would have loved to see more investigation on things like high rates of opioid addiction and prevalence of subprime loans.

It is well known that social attitudes shift over time. But saying "they're just racist or sexist" is not an adequate explanation for why these social attitudes shift. I'd love to see more research on that because I think it is critical in winning future elections and wresting control away from Republicans, especially in red states.

Besides, if economic factors don't play any role at all in people's racial attitudes, why have white colonizers and slaveowners used them as a cudgel to foment racial prejudice for centuries across the world?
posted by Ouverture at 7:14 AM on April 30 [4 favorites]


Besides, if economic factors don't play any role at all in people's racial attitudes, why have white colonizers and slaveowners used them as a cudgel to foment racial prejudice for centuries across the world?

There's a difference between being ignorant and being deliberately obstinant. It's one thing for one to fall for something that makes sense to them intuitively. The Trump coalition knows that black people and immigrants aren't responsible for all their ills. They know the boss is a crook and the one they need to get mad at. They know how fucking dumb their shit sounds because liberals tell/laugh at them and it just makes them madder and double down.

But still, they're pissed and someone has to suffer.

That's what makes it racism vs economics.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 8:14 AM on April 30 [4 favorites]


N.B. that response lacked an extreme amount of nuance that borders on apologia for the racism of white people who feel hard done by but in the strictest sense of "you're given the information, you can either choose to do the right thing or do the wrong thing no longer in a state of innocence", the Trump coalition has rather decisively decided to engage in the latter.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 8:17 AM on April 30 [2 favorites]


The discussion here is so frustrating. Yes, the piece failed to adequately address racial dynamics, and if you believe any discussion that sets aside the primary cause to examine secondary causes is fatally flawed, then I suppose no productive exchange is possible here. I have certainly expressed my share of skepticism toward the "economic anxiety" canard in the past, but I also think there's merit in rejecting monocausality and delving into secondary factors which, when combined, may represent a threat similar in scale to the primary cause.

Let's say we're all sailing together on The Good Ship MetaFilter and one of us notices that we're taking on water. Someone discovers that there's a large hole in the bottom of the hull, but as much as we try to patch it, we can only make it a bit smaller. So we all grab buckets and start bailing, but matter how hard we try, we're still taking on water. Then someone in the back notices a smaller hole in the hull and suggests trying to patch it.

By the logic of so many in this thread, such a strategy would be foolish, because the hole in the bottom is the primary factor explaining the ship's loss of buoyancy. Nonetheless, every drop of water that's kept out increases the chance that we can get the ship back to port instead of drowning.

Pick the analogy apart all you'd like, but I hope my premise is clear. Racism is the giant hole in America's hull that we can't seem to patch. We were founded on it and we built our economy around it, so it's not going away if we just pick the right presidential candidate, nor can we choose who the other side picks in their primaries. We can, of course, try to offer non-racist (or not-as-racist) alternatives, but if a modern day Southern Strategy works for the GOP electorally, they're going to use it.

Democrats, meanwhile, don't have the luxury of relying on a single overriding strategy. We're a patchwork of loosely-aligned interests that generally run counter to those of the GOP, so we find the votes where we can. If offering to relieve economic hardship in West Virginia gives people there an alternative to the "immigrants took your job" narrative, then we should do that, even if it doesn't flip the state right away, and even if it doesn't directly confront them on their racist attitudes. And while labor unions do indeed have a history of excluding people of color, declining unionization does, in my view, represent an existential threat to the solidarity of the Democratic coalition.

We have to reach voters wherever they are, with whatever arguments and strategies work. As long as we're doing so without resorting to cynical racist messages ourselves -- I'm looking at you, Biden -- we can begin to patch the smaller holes to the point where we can maybe get ourselves back to shore and begin the long process of fixing the giant hole at the bottom.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:26 AM on April 30 [7 favorites]


Democrats, meanwhile, don't have the luxury of relying on a single overriding strategy. We're a patchwork of loosely-aligned interests that generally run counter to those of the GOP, so we find the votes where we can. If offering to relieve economic hardship in West Virginia gives people there an alternative to the "immigrants took your job" narrative, then we should do that, even if it doesn't flip the state right away, and even if it doesn't directly confront them on their racist attitudes. And while labor unions do indeed have a history of excluding people of color, declining unionization does, in my view, represent an existential threat to the solidarity of the Democratic coalition.

I don't believe that it's that easy. One of the big problems of bringing coalitions together is that if a coalition feels hard done by they'll walk and that smaller aggregate gains for all coalition members is really hard to notice when things still suck. This is a constant trap lurking for coalition builders.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 9:21 AM on April 30 [2 favorites]


Who said it's easy? Of course coalition building is hard, but it's the only choice we have. We don't have a prepackaged menu of issue positions that naturally maps to our base. In a different electoral system where we could have parties that go their own way but federate in order to form a government there might be another option, but with the system we have, there really isn't.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:30 AM on April 30 [3 favorites]


The Trump coalition knows that black people and immigrants aren't responsible for all their ills.

Not all their ills, but definitely some. I mean, the US-China relationship was already showing cracks before the pandemic, and it's worse now because of it, and will continue to get worse because Trump and the Republicans want to find someone to blame for the pandemic and the bad economy.

I'm also not saying China doesn't do bad things and is above reproach either. Obviously, I'm even struggling a little here to walk this tight rope of how to talk about China, but I think this is how it's going to have to be if we want a better outcome for everyone in the world.
posted by FJT at 12:15 PM on April 30


we can begin to patch the smaller holes to the point where we can maybe get ourselves back to shore and begin the long process of fixing the giant hole at the bottom.

Wait for a more convenient season, as it were?

But no. The problem isn't that you want to patch smaller holes and wait to fix the big one. The problem is posting FPPs with titles like "Here's Why Our Good Ship Is Sinking" which point out the fact that there's a little water in another part of the ship way over there, and thence jump to the conclusion that there must be another hole somewhere there which is the true cause of the ship sinking... without once mentioning the existence of the big hole in the whole article.

And then arguing in the comments that there must be some other holes that the captain has been grievously negligent about failing to patch, while handwaving away anyone who asks for evidence of the existence of those supposedly powerful other holes which are responsible for our ship sinking.
posted by MiraK at 1:07 PM on April 30


> Wait for a more convenient season, as it were?

Yes, even though I said "but as much as we try to patch it, we can only make it a bit smaller" previously, go ahead and hit me with an out of context quote where I meant to say "continue" instead of "begin" just so you can label me as the white moderate. Even though I routinely attacked Sanders for not taking identity / race / gender issues seriously in 2016. Even though I linked to like five posts where I made my views clear on how people use economic anxiety to disguise their own bigotry.

I agree that racial resentment was the #1 factor that led to Trump's election. What I disagree with is the notion that we must focus on it exclusively, because unless you have a plan for solving the bigotry that led people to vote for Trump in the next seven months, we can't be leaving any votes on the table. There are constituencies in the electorate that can be reached with a wide variety of approaches, none of which has to involve fighting bigotry with bigotry. That's all I'm saying here, and it sucks that it's being twisted like this for a mean dunk.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:35 PM on April 30 [2 favorites]


What I disagree with is the notion that we must focus on it exclusively, because unless you have a plan for solving the bigotry that led people to vote for Trump in the next seven months, we can't be leaving any votes on the table.

Yes, this is what I am struggling with understanding. Without the leverage made possible via economic solidarity, what else is there to bridge this gap?

Consciousness-raising diversity seminars facilitated by McKinsey consultants and Exxon engineers from underrepresented backgrounds volunteering in their spare time?

Why did MLK make economic solidarity and progress such a huge part of his activism before he was assassinated? Why does A Vision for Black Lives so prominently feature economic justice and power throughout the platform? Is it because they were all white moderates who don't think racism is a problem?

In my personal experiences organizing as a person of color, I have been able to convince racist people to change their minds and actions via economic solidarity and moving them away from their prejudice.

How have people here convinced racist people to change their minds and actions?
posted by Ouverture at 2:56 PM on April 30 [3 favorites]


"gender essentialism" has a set very different meaning to how it's being used in this thread...
posted by Dysk at 9:10 PM on April 30 [3 favorites]


What the Sanders campaign’s defenders get wrong — and right
What the Sanders team and his supporters in left media have done is take a key idea from the Marxist tradition — the idea that any meaningful challenge to entrenched inequality requires an organized, class-conscious workers’ movement — and applied it to the workings of modern American politics.

They believe that in a world of yawning inequality and neoliberal organization of the state, socialist policy has the ability to knit together a new political coalition. Young people, victims of the Great Recession and holders of massive student debt, would turn out in unprecedented numbers for someone promising to help them. The white working class, battered by globalization and a weak social safety net, can get over the racial hang-ups that made Trumpism appealing and join with nonwhite workers in coalition against the millionaires and billionaires. [...]

This did not emerge during the primary, to put it mildly. Rural and non-college white voters, a key element of Sanders’s strong 2016 performance that made the left theory plausible in the first place, preferred Biden. Sanders failed to make significant inroads with black voters, a key part of any multiracial working-class coalition. Younger voters actually made up a smaller part of the electorate in 2020 than they did in 2016. [...]

The most interesting contribution to this left’s Bernie postmortem genre came in Jacobin, from Paul Heideman and Hadas Thier. The piece, which discusses one of mine from earlier in April, starts by admitting what Sanders’s other defenders didn’t: that the theory of socialist politics’ unique ability to turn out downscale white voters was badly flawed.

“Much of the Left overestimated Bernie’s support with rural white voters coming out of the 2016 primary,” they write. “As Beauchamp points out, it now seems that much of this vote was driven more by antipathy toward Hillary.”

Yet Heideman and Thier do not draw what might seem like the clear conclusion: that the decades-long pattern of rural and working-class white support for left parties across Western democracies has deep roots that can’t be reversed by campaigns. Instead, they argue for putting even more effort into building a working-class movement.

Why? Because, as they put it, “there is no path to the Sanders agenda that does not run through a radicalized working class.” Essentially, they view the task of winning elections as subordinate to the task of building a left-wing working-class movement — and that Sanders’s campaign strategy reflected this ideological commitment rather than pure tactical calculation [...]
posted by tonycpsu at 7:00 AM on May 1 [3 favorites]


Yes, this is what I am struggling with understanding. Without the leverage made possible via economic solidarity, what else is there to bridge this gap?

But this article isn't arguing that we need economic solidarity as mere leverage to bridge the gap between the virulently racist/misogynist voters and those who want Trump out. This article erases the very existence of racism and misogyny - which were/are THE driving forces behind the working classes leaving the Democratic Party. This article proposes an alternative explanation for why that exodus happened! It posits that workers left the Democratic Party in 1972 because Democrats chose to build a base of suburbanites instead of riffraff. That's... delusional. Insane.

It's like if this article were titled, "What Happened In NYC in September 2001?" and made no reference to the terrorist attack whatsoever, while proposing the theory that "mass hysteria gripped the city, which shows a compelling need for mental health services in NYC." Am I going to argue against the notion that traumatized people need mental health services? Of course not! But here's a person who is ignoring the terrorist attacks - the trauma - completely, and proposing an alternative explanation of "mass hysteria" for the mental health status of New Yorkers in September 2001. This person is delusional. Insane. Nobody should trust them to spearhead the effort to provide mental health services.

I'll join the movement for (or agree with an article about) economic solidarity when it's spearheaded by people who do not erase racism and misogyny, thanks.
posted by MiraK at 4:18 AM on May 6 [6 favorites]


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