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That white working class

By Harold Meyerson

Plainly, the one mega-group in the electorate that Barack Obama has the most trouble reaching is the white working class. In the 2008 primaries, Hillary Clinton clobbered Obama in this group, which is why she defeated him in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. Tuesday, it was in these states - our former industrial heartland - where the Republicans made their greatest gains.

In the nationwide exit poll, whites with no college degree favored Republican over Democratic candidates by a 62 percent to 35 percent margin. The group constituted 39 percent of Tuesday's electorate. Indeed, one way to gauge a state's politics is to look at the percentage of the electorate that the white working class comprises. In Ohio, where the Democrats took a pasting, whites with no college degrees comprised 48 percent of the electorate, and in Pennsylvania, where the Democrats lost as well, these voters comprised 43 percent of the voters. In both New York and California, however, according to the exit polls, they comprised just 28 percent of the electorate - so even though they favored Republican candidates in those two states, there weren't enough of them to make a difference.

The working-class white percentage of the American people shrinks a little every year, and that's to the Democrats' long-term advantage. Latinos voted Democratic yesterday by better than two-to-one, and in California, where exit polls showed them supporting Jerry Brown over Meg Whitman by a 65 percent to 31 percent margin, they comprised 22 percent of the electorate. But America isn't California and won't be for some time. For now, the Democratic coalition is strong among Americans with post-graduate degrees and working-class people of color. That's enough to ensure their victories in the Northeast and on the West Coast. But in the South and the Midwest, it's not enough.

Obama was never going to appeal to working-class whites by virtue of his cultural affinities with them. In the Midwest - the most downwardly-mobile American region - his prospects have hinged on his ability to stop the economic slide and mitigate the desperation of an economically hopeless people. These are things he hasn't done, and his party paid for that big-time yesterday.

By Harold Meyerson  | November 3, 2010; 2:22 AM ET
Categories:  Meyerson  | Tags:  Harold Meyerson  
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Comments

The economic crisis was over 8 years in the making and it will take more then 2 years to undo.
People just don't get it.

Posted by: marioliggi | November 3, 2010 2:46 AM | Report abuse

The operative word here is "working". People who work to earn their daily bread get just a little resentful if a third of it is taken away a given to those who don't work.

Illegal immigrants in Sanoma can earn upwards of $20 a day, but US unemployment is hovering just under 10%. If you get paid for not working, why work?

So-called progressives have been promoting their disincentives to work for decades. And for those who want to work anyway, the progressives have Big Labor, which restricts the job market making it even harder to work.

This election day the Working Class announced it wanted progress, not "progressives".

Posted by: dilettante | November 3, 2010 4:28 AM | Report abuse

Once again, working class voters got snookered by the chants of smaller government and fiscal conservatism religiously promoted by the republicans and gop/fox pac. The working class will continue to see a shift - incomes for the working class will continue to be reduced while the incomes of the top 2% will continue to increase exponentially and the burden of the deficit - and the increasing deficit to come - will be placed even more firmly on their backs. The republicans have failed to follow through on their promises of fiscal conservatism for generations. I don't expect this to change. Be careful what you vote for, this time your going to get it with both barrels.

Posted by: notfooledbydistractions1 | November 3, 2010 6:34 AM | Report abuse

The false consciousness of the lumpen slows the historical dialectic.

Harold is a true believer.

Posted by: happyacres | November 3, 2010 8:05 AM | Report abuse

I am white working class and I CANNOT STAND REPUBLICANS OR TEA PARTY PEOPLE....... I would help them if they had a flat tire,
but, they make me sick to be an American

Posted by: honeybee1 | November 3, 2010 8:24 AM | Report abuse

To marioliggi: with just a little research, you will find the seeds of the current economic situation sprouted in 2006 and have been nurtured ever since by progressive government both R&D.

To meyerson: In your opinion, how will the children of the white working class who become 'degreed' and/or disperse to the more prosperous regions of America effect the political future of either party? Same question substituting 'Hispanic' for 'white working class'.

Posted by: wriglee1 | November 3, 2010 8:28 AM | Report abuse

First: "But America isn't California and won't be for some time." Let's pray not. Taking a beautiful, rich state that if it were its own nation would be the 8th largest GNP in the world and bankrupting it, driving the price of houses that would sell in other states for $40K to $1M, having open drug sells, and a list of ills too long to repeat makes it difficult to believe that any other state would like to proceed down the same path. Right now people and businesses are leaving California at an alarming rate.

Second. Why must we talk about political groups or classes? What has happened to the individual, the one you call the white working class? Well he and she have been replaced by special interest groups who do not care about the Nation but rather care only about themselves. That is why we "white working class" get pretty fed up at election time. I am sorry that you sit in your high chair in DC and wait for me to die....so you and your "groups" can rule America as you believe it should be ruled not as it was meant to be as a government by the people and for the people...not special interest groups. Sad, very sad. I had hoped to die before I saw and heard such nonsense as the Great Experiement begins to die.

Posted by: staterighter | November 3, 2010 9:44 AM | Report abuse

First: "But America isn't California and won't be for some time." Let's pray not. Taking a beautiful, rich state that if it were its own nation would be the 8th largest GNP in the world and bankrupting it, driving the price of houses that would sell in other states for $40K to $1M, having open drug sells, and a list of ills too long to repeat makes it difficult to believe that any other state would like to proceed down the same path. Right now people and businesses are leaving California at an alarming rate.

Second. Why must we talk about political groups or classes? What has happened to the individual, the one you call the white working class? Well he and she have been replaced by special interest groups who do not care about the Nation but rather care only about themselves. That is why we "white working class" get pretty fed up at election time. I am sorry that you sit in your high chair in DC and wait for me to die....so you and your "groups" can rule America as you believe it should be ruled not as it was meant to be as a government by the people and for the people...not special interest groups. Sad, very sad. I had hoped to die before I saw and heard such nonsense as the Great Experiement begins to die.

Posted by: staterighter | November 3, 2010 9:45 AM | Report abuse

How ironic that the most common message of the commentators so far is that the electorate are fools. I won't attempt to dispute that point but it seems to me that the disappointed side (and maybe a few of the winners) might say that at the conclusion of any election; 2008 included.

Is it time to suggest that the franchise has been over-extended?

Posted by: lmmbham | November 3, 2010 9:53 AM | Report abuse

honeybee1 wrote:

"I am white working class and I CANNOT STAND REPUBLICANS OR TEA PARTY PEOPLE....... I would help them if they had a flat tire,
but, they make me sick to be an American."

Well I am a white working conservative who will help liberals, minorities, the elderly, women, Homosexuals, Muslims or anyone who is in need. The generosity of most Americans makes me proud to be an American despite the rough and tumble political debates. The day you are sick of being an American because of politics is time to either leave or keep things in perspective; free speech, freedom to assemble, and freedom to vote as one chooses. But don't worry, I am certain your political champions will return to fight and win another day. Now, that is somewthing that makes me proud to be an American!

Posted by:

Posted by: cpnorton1 | November 3, 2010 10:51 AM | Report abuse

About 30% of non-Hispanic whites age 25 and up have a four-year degree and they represented more than 60% of yesterday's electorate, and 65% of those who voted Democrat.

Meanwhile, those (whites) who most need the social safety net historically provided by Democratic administrations and legislatures overwhelmingly voted for the party most likely to dismantle it.

Simply mind-boggling.

Posted by: Ralphinjersey | November 3, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Ralph -- stupid is as stupid votes.

Posted by: Observer691 | November 3, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

I absolutely despise the usage of the term "working class" to describe people without college degrees. I hold two college degrees and I have a job which requires 12 hour shifts. I am on the job upwards of 60 hours per week. That's not "working"? Last I checked my company wasn't paying me for my conversational skills, or lack thereof.

Maybe I don't qualify because my job doesn't require manual labor like mining coal, forging steel, or installing HVAC units. Or maybe I make too much money, my individual salary being more than what roughly 55-60% of American families make. That must be it - you only know what REAL work is if you work in a job that requires a pickup truck or a van and you make less than some number of dollars per year.

Does the income requirement vary by location? Because I make less than the median income in Fairfax County, where I live during the week. Of course, I'm still disqualified because I have an education. Oh, well, I guess I'll never be a working American. Now where's my butler...it's time for my noon repast. I say, you can not find good help these days...

Posted by: SeaTigr | November 3, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

That's some serious condescension Meyerson...Those idiotic white workers... fortunately they're going to die off. Anyway, according to the Reds on this borad and you Meyerson, those Americans are racist, ignorant, xenophobic, paranoid, uneducated, tea-bagging, homophobic, religious nutjob, gun-fanatic, boobs who shouldn't be allowed to vote.

Keep it up Meyerson...you might antagonize some more people.

Posted by: wjc1va | November 3, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse

It seems that working class whites do not know how to vote in their own self-interest, while working class minority group members do. No group has suffered more under the economic policies of the last 30 years (Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush) than white working class males, but the leisure class in America has always been remarkably successful at convincing the white working class to oppose policies that would benefit them by arguing that they would also benefit working class minorities. Poor white southerners by the thousands even fought to preserve a system of slavery that undercut the value of their labor and kept them poor. Apparently getting working class white people to cut off their noses to spite their faces is good politics for the GOP, Inc.

Posted by: mcstowy | November 3, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

The economic crisis was over 8 years in the making and it will take more then 2 years to undo.
People just don't get it.
------------------------------------------------------------------

The economic crisis was over 80 years in the making and it was due to distortions in the market caused by government interference from Hoover all the way to Obama.

People just don't get it.

Posted by: BradG | November 3, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

The economic crisis was over 8 years in the making and it will take more then 2 years to undo.
People just don't get it.

========================================

People get that. What you and Obama didn't get is that most people believe what he's done hasn't helped and is probably making things worse.

Posted by: bbface21 | November 3, 2010 12:03 PM | Report abuse

SeaTigr

Meyerson is using a demographic shorthand. I agree that you are a member of the working class. One of the only recently-noticed aspects of the economic decline of the last 3 decades is that the value of work, in terms of compensation paid to people who actually work and produce something, has declined in favor of re-distributing wealth to the super-rich. It started with manual labor and blue-collor jobs, but it has now moved well into white-collar, professional jobs as well. Even as policy-makers decry American education's failure to produce science and engineering grads, they adopt policies that undercut the wages of scietists and engineers in favor of tax breaks for corporations that off-shore jobs and employ H-2 visa immigrants to work at lower wages. But working-class white males, college-educated or not, overwhealminly support the party and the policies that have harmed them.

Posted by: mcstowy | November 3, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Love the comment by staterighter.

Meyerson is damn right! "America isn't California" Unfortunately I am not sure the converse of that statement is true anymore. I do not understand the people of my home state. Our state is suffering and they hand it back to the very people causing all the damage. You can make economics as complicated as you want but what it comes down to is simple. Jobs can not be created out of thin air. There has to be A. Something to do B. Someone willing to pay for it C. Someone willing to do it for a reasonable price. Current policy in California is undermining all three of those principles.

Posted by: steeraw | November 3, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

everything mcstowy has said - me, too.

Posted by: edismae | November 3, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Ah- those pesky working people. They do get in the way of the ruling elite who know what's best for them. I cannot believe the arrogance I see here. Perhaps if some of them had a real job- not an academic, legal, union, or journalism one, they would know how saavy we little people are. Sorry if we do not know our place.
But the Progressives would like a system as Kipling said "where every man is paid for his existence and no man must pay for his sins"

Posted by: maggiepiano13 | November 3, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Thank you maggiepiano13. I had never read the Kipling Poem, "The Gods of the Copybook Headings". WOW!

Here is a good link for anyone who wants to check it out. It has few words but says it all.

http://www.readprint.com/work-966/The-Gods-Of-The-Copybook-Headings-Rudyard-Kipling

Posted by: steeraw | November 3, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

If Democrats are so Great please explain why Detroit a city that has been Democratic since the New Deal is a wasteland.There is a new city built in a ring around Old Detroit with better services and lower taxes and more businesses and more racial and religious diversity.Please explain Detroit passed and implemented every democratic Liberal Policy and look what you get.We built a new city around it to get away from Liberal policies.How do you know what voters education is,race is,you don't just more Democratic Racial Division by selecting who to ask.BTW why don't Liberals move to Old Detroit if they like Liberal Policies?

Posted by: faeyth | November 3, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

this sums it up..."those Americans are racist, ignorant, xenophobic, paranoid, uneducated, tea-bagging, homophobic, religious nutjob, gun-fanatic, boobs who shouldn't be allowed to vote."
True, true and true, except for the last part...i wont deny anyone the right to vote.

Posted by: sherlockjt | November 3, 2010 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Gerson, it's apparent from reading both the comments here and on other blogs that many - if not most - American voters are vastly unaware of the global changes and the resultant consequences of the last 20 some years.

It isn't just because of Dems or Repubs that Americans have lost jobs, or that the Midwest is the rust belt. Those conditions are the result of the rise of an industrial world, i.e. countries that are no longer picking themselves up from WWII havoc. The US no longer controls the world economy and has the world marketplace mostly to itself.

All this is to say that WaPo and other media outlets would do well, using Edward R. Murrow's invocation, to "teach" America by running in-depth feature stories on what happened post WWII to 2010, how everything has changed as a result of rising global competition, and even what must be done politically, economically, and educationally within the US to restore our global competitiveness and return jobs to the country.

The truth, from my humble perspective, is that people don't get it. They simply don't really understand what has happened over the last 20-plus years or what they need to do about it. As a result, they're scared, angry, and frustrated. Knowledge and understanding will help.

Posted by: valkayec | November 3, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

mcstowy is right, that is a proven strategy. Republicans say: you don't need social security, healthcare and better working conditions because that will benefit minorities more than it benefits you. As a result they vote for conservatives. Republicans say, we want to ship jobs overseas and that is good because the other people may help minorities more, so give up your job. The rich conservatives are laughing at you becuase you are so easily manipulated.

Posted by: marcman5 | November 4, 2010 10:38 AM | Report abuse

You have always been a subtle reactionary that pitted the nonwhite vs the white working class. At least you admit that the neoliberal democrats future is with the yuppies and not us. I wish you would quit pretending to like the labor movement when what you really like is the right wing unions like the seiu, who want to be the middle man to the working class screwover rather than fighting for our rights.. Their leader, Andy Stern is currently trying cut social security.

Posted by: noalternative | November 4, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

marioliggi gives a classic example of how Obama apologists try to win votes by calling people stupid. How's that working out?

People "get it" perfectly well. They saw how, with TARP, the banksters got bailed out NOW NOW NOW -- and that law was passed by a D Congress and whipped for by Obama. And what did they get, from an administration that was elected on a promise of hope and change? NO NO NO. 10% real (20% nominal) unemployment as far as the eye can see.

Both parties are colluding in this, D and R alike.

Posted by: lambert_strether | November 6, 2010 10:05 AM | Report abuse

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