Thursday, April 17, 2008

Myth of the Bitter White Working Class

Paul Krugman put up a blog post today entitled Clinging to the Data, in which he basically demolishes the claim that A) poor religious whites vote Republican and B) Midwesterners were economically disadvantaged under Bill Clinton and, thus, are "bitter". He promises a full article on the basic data presented in the blog post. Also in that blog post is a link to a PDF of a paper by Larry Bartels of Princeton, which he gave at the 2005 American Political Science Association conference. It is called "What’s the Matter with What’s the Matter with Kansas?" and it pretty much demolishes the "Obama was just badly saying Thomas Frank's thesis from his book, which we all know is true," bullshit being voiced by the Blogger Boyz. This is research Krugman used when writing his own Conscience of a Liberal, which also puts the lie to many assumptions about white voting behavior held by the out-of-touch Obamacan elite who pretend to be Democrats. Here is the summary page of the paper:
  • Has the white working class abandoned the Democratic Party? No. White voters in the bottom third of the income distribution have actually become more reliably Democratic in presidential elections over the past half-century, while middle- and upper-income white voters have trended Republican. Low-income whites have become less Democratic in their partisan identifications, but at a slower rate than more affluent whites – and that trend is entirely confined to the South, where Democratic identification was artificially inflated by the one-party system of the Jim Crow era.
  • Has the white working class become more conservative? No. The average views of low-income whites have remained virtually unchanged over the past 30 years. (A pro-choice shift on abortion in the 1970s and ‘80s has been partially reversed since the early 1990s.) Their positions relative to more affluent white voters – generally less liberal on social issues and less conservative on economic issues – have also remained virtually unchanged.
  • Do working class "moral values" trump economics? No. Social issues (including abortion) are less strongly related to party identification and presidential votes than economic issues are, and that is even more true for whites in the bottom third of the income distribution than for more affluent whites. Moreover, while social issue preferences have become more strongly related to presidential votes among middle- and high-income whites, there is no evidence of a corresponding trend among low-income whites.
  • Are religious voters distracted from economic issues? No. The partisan attachments and presidential votes of frequent church-goers and people who say religion provides "a great deal" of guidance in their lives are much more strongly related to their views about economic issues than to their views about social issues. For church-goers as for non-church-goers, partisanship and voting behavior are primarily shaped by economic issues, not cultural issues.

What is the take away from this? First and foremost, that if you want to know where defections to the Republicans have occured in the Democratic Party, look to the white former power brokers in the South, those who profited from segregation and who defected to the Republicans when the Democratic Party firmly placed itself on the side of human rights and equality before the law. These are not poor yokels, hillbillies and rubes. These are educated, social and economically influential people, the Republican counterparts of the Obamacan supporters among Democrats.

As I said in In Praise of Cities, it was the ethnic white working class of the northern cities and industrial heartland who helped wrest power away from the segregationist, revanchist power elite of the South, the Strom Thurmands and Trent Lotts of this world. Did they intend Black equality? At the time, probably not. I'm not looking at anyone with rose colored glasses. Did the grounds on which they were brought into the party as participants who exercized increasing influence, mostly through unions, set the stage for the party to confront its racist core and forced it to come down on the side of equality? Yes.

The other big takeaway here is that the working class does vote its economic interests. Furthermore, their religious views may be more closely tied to their economic stances and voting preferences than to their social views. I know a lot of working class Catholics, for example, who are staunchly anti-abortion but who always vote Democratic because of their commitment to good works and social justice. This is what we are seeing among Hillary supporters in Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, New Jersey and so forth - she's got a plan to get us out of the economic shithole BushCo has dropped us into, and they trust that she knows what she's talking about, mostly because she will stand there in front of them, take their questions and describe in detail what she will do.

The basic problem is that two similar reactions to frustration - anger and bitterness - are getting conflated and transposed in an attempt to explain away Obama's failure at the polls. There's a lot of angry Democrats out there. We have a fuck of a lot of things to be angry about over the way Bush and Cheney have betrayed and brutalized this nation. There's anger about the economy and predatory lending. There's anger about rapacious corporations and the exploitation of workers around the world. There's anger about being lied into a war and watching our nation's reputation demolished. The ranking of which issue is the most important changes with the constituency and the region.

What we are seeing is the way in which Obamacan bitterness over not getting what they want (and a pony) results in them crudely projecting their biases and fears onto people who are simply voting their interests. Bitterness is a reaction to having been stymied or betrayed, and is not an automatic reaction to having to work hard. I suspect a lot of working class people, regardless of color or gender, look at the shit life throws them pretty much the way I do, which is to sigh, daydream a bit about winning the lottery, and then just getting on with the business of making do with what life has handed you. It's only if you feel entitled to something you haven't received or burdened by things you do not deserve that you become bitter. Anger can be empowering. I have never encountered bitterness that is not corrosive and destructive.

Obama is projecting his own bitterness at being denied a win, attributing hateful and defamatory intentions to those who will not provide him what he believes he deserves. I'm sure there are people out there who won't vote for him because of the color of his skin. I know a few. They are all Republicans. Empirical evidence does not support his claims about those who won't vote for him, no matter how loud GKJM and Kos scream about the horrible racists supporting the horrible Hillary Mommy Monster.

Yes, Precious, it is possible for you to lose because people like Hillary better. You're likeable enough, but we want our president to actually be qualified for the job.


1 comment:

Common Sense Gram said...

My goodness! you have been busy today! Thanks, I really appreciate all your hard work.
I had a conversation at my (Catholic) Church last Sunday regarding my support of Hillary. (I wear my button everywhere, with pride.) The conversation covered exactly the point that as Christians we are supposed to care for the poor, to fight for justice for the oppressed.
I was gratified to find many of my fellow parishioners feel the same way.