June 3, 2017

Rewinning the working class

American Prospect  Democrats have been losing small-town, exurban, and rural voters cycle after cycle when Barack Obama has not been on the ballot. The consistency of those losses is illustrated in recent election results from the five states that Working America surveyed: Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

In the 2014 Michigan gubernatorial race, unsuccessful Democrat Mark Schauer received 43.09 percent of the vote in the non-urban counties. Clinton’s 2016 performance fell a bit further behind his result (38.26 percent). In contrast, Obama received 49.28 percent of the vote in these same counties in 2012. Both Schauer and Clinton lost the state, yet Obama won it twice.

In the 2010 and 2014 Wisconsin gubernatorial races, unsuccessful Democrats Tom Barrett and Mary Burke received 41.61 percent and 41.27 percent, respectively, in non-urban counties. Clinton’s 2016 performance tracks slightly behind these benchmarks (39.38 percent) and was 7.5 points behind Obama (46.77 percent). This difference was a large part of the reason that Obama won Wisconsin twice while other Democrats lost.

This same pattern held true in the North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania midterm elections. Since 2008, Democrats have resoundingly lost the elections where Obama was not on the ballot, with a substantial share of those losses coming from a lack of support from working-class voters, especially in non-urban areas.

Much post-election analysis has focused on the drop in turnout among African American voters. While we think lower turnout in this bedrock of the progressive base was a factor in some places, African American turnout was not down everywhere. It did dip in crucial cities like Detroit and Cleveland, but turnout was up in other heavily African American communities like Greensboro, North Carolina. Where there was a drop in turnout, it was not decisive for most states and in no state was it the largest share of vote loss. But higher African American turnout in the battleground states would not by itself have led to a Clinton victory. The votes are simply not there.

In fact, Democrats’ electoral efforts would be substantially improved by more investment in political organizing that engaged both communities of color and white working class voters at all times, not just in the few months before Election Day.


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