Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Working Class Voters and the 2016 Election

The day after....

Today in my introductory logic class, we were supposed to start talking about formal deduction: one of the most important, and confusing, topics in the course. When 10am rolled around, there were a lot of missing people. And those who were there mostly looked half-asleep, and many of them looked as if they were about to cry, or scream, or something else. I canceled the class, and several students thanked me.

What happened yesterday? There will no doubt be a lot of punditry, but in reading the exit polls last night (I kept the TV off), it seemed to me pretty obvious what had happened. Here's my theory. (And it's apparently not just mine.)

The story of this election is really told in four states: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. That is where Clinton's famed "firewall" gave way. And why does she lose those four states? Because of Trump's absolutely huge advantage with, as the pollsters tend to put it, "whites without a college education", i.e., working class whites. Republicans have done well with that group for some time now, but exit poll data from the New York Times reveals the depth of the problem Clinton had. Obama lost this group by just 18 points in 2008 and 25 points in 2012; Clinton lost by a staggering 40 points. Along similar lines: Among people with household incomes under $30,000, Obama by 32 and 28 points in 2008 and 2012, but Clinton won by only about 12 points. (Obviously, there is some overlap between those groups.)

Might the fact that Clinton did less well with African-American and Latinx voters than Obama did in 2012 be partly for this same sort of reason?

Who are these relatively poor and less educated people who voted for Obama but have now voted from Trump? I'll hazard a guess that they are the same people who formed a group of which many of us had heard, but of which few of us could believe might exist: the people who wanted to vote for Bernie Sanders, but would vote for Trump over Clinton. Which is to say: Yes, obviously, there are plenty of racists and misogynists and xenophobes among Trump's supporters. But I doubt that they are who won him the election.

The truth is that, long before working-class voters turned out in historic numbers, seemingly fleeing from the Democratic candidate, the Democratic party had abandoned them. The recovery from the 2008 crash has been painfully slow, even non-existent from the point of view of that demographic. What exactly has the Obama administration done to help them? Or, allowing for Republican obstructionism, even tried to do?

But if you really want a poster child for the way the Democrats have taken working-class people for granted, you could do no better than to choose that other Clinton, Bill. It was Bill, together with the so-called "Democratic Leadership Council",  who pushed the party in a 'pro-business' direction. That was a needed corrective, after the disasters of 1984 and 1988. But it did not have to go as far as embracing and even championing the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Bill did largely over the objections of labor, who predicted, rightly as it turned out, that it would lead to a massive loss of manufacturing jobs in the United States. And many of those lost jobs were in the very states in which Clinton stunningly lost last night.

The good news, for Democrats, is that these voters may well not be lost to the party. As I said, I suspect that many of them would have been happy to vote for Sanders, who tirelessly called attention to their plight during the primary. Indeed, in so far as Clinton paid any attention to this group, it was because of pressure from Sanders. I'm not saying that Sanders would have won. Maybe, maybe not. But a Democratic party that took a turn back towards its roots and became once again a champion of labor, would, I think, stand a very good chance of luring at least many of those voters back into the fold.

The reason is that Donald Trump, although he has to be given credit for recognizing the depth of frustration among these voters, has absolutely no concrete plans to help them. Building his ridiculous wall (which Mexico still isn't going to pay for), or anything else that restricts immigration, has nothing to do with it. Probably the Trans-Pacific Partnership is dead, but that, at most, will serve to prevent further erosion, not to restore the coastline.

Probably some other moves towards protectionism are likely, too. For example, Trump has talked about re-negotiating NAFTA and other trade deals. But it's far from clear that we can turn the clock back now, or that doing so would lead to a restoration of US manufacturing. What seems far more likely is that it would lead to a trade war that would cost the US economy dearly, since Mexico and Canada are two of our biggest export markets. Besides which, it's far from clear how many Republicans in Congress, who tend be a pretty pro-trade bunch, would be willing to go along with protectionist legislation.

And, speaking of the Republicans in Congress, what we're likely to get from them is a series of policies that will benefit the traditional Republican constituencies, which, to put it mildly, do not include the working class: Massive tax cuts for the wealthy, just to start; a partial repeal of Obamacare, which will deprive many working class people of health insurance; a privatization of Medicare, which will affect millions of older Americans, especially those less well-off.

Maybe, just maybe, there will be enough support for the sorts of investments in infrastructure that seemed, at one time, to be attracting bipartisan support. But that was really a core proposal of Clinton's. And it costs money, which means you need either revenue or debt. For which of those do the Republicans in Congress have an appetite?

Nothing else has even been mentioned at this point, certainly not by Trump.

So here's a prediction: Two years from now (at the mid-terms), and four years from now (at the next presidential election), the plight of working class people will not be any better than it is now and may well be even worse. And the `cross-over' voters who swept Trump into power are not going to be happy about it. They voted for Trump because they wanted concrete change, not just symbolic change, and they certainly did not want the usual offerings from the Republican establishment. But they are not going to get concrete change.

That gives the Democrats an opportunity. But only if they're willing to have their own reckoning and stop just pretending to care about the working class.

1 comment:

  1. Hillary pre-empting an real primary years in advance aside from Sanders stepping up to challenge her (and causing her more problems than by rights he should have) was the problem. Nobody wanted to vote for Hillary, even most of those who did, I suspect.

    Joe Biden would have wiped the floor. Hillary and her supporters have done a real disservice to America and the world. I would like to see her take some responsibility for it. But she's just blaming Comey instead. As our president-elect would say, Sad!


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