Kicking Up or Down

Greg Sargent calls attention today to a new study on the white working class from the Public Religion Research Institute that demonstrates two things of special interest in this election season. Here’s Greg’s succinct take:

On “dependency,” the study finds that large numbers of working class whites (46 percent) have received Social Security or disability payments over the last two years; more than a fifth have received food stamps; 19% have received unemployment.

Yet the study also finds that three quarters of working class whites believe poor people have become too dependent on government assistance. There’s obviously overlap there, which bears out what some have already pointed out — many of these voters simply won’t think Romney’s comments about the freeloading 47 percent, or about government “dependency” in general, are about them.

But the findings on “redistribution” are also revealing. White working class voters want to soak the rich, and they agree with key aspects of Obama’s views about capitalism and inequality.

So this demonstrates what we’ve all sort of figured out: this category of voters, considered “swing” (though leaning heavily Republican in recent cycles) is open to criticism of Romney, his record, and his agenda; but also to Romney’s more ham-handed efforts to get them to focus on people receiving “welfare” or who are otherwise deemed “dependent on government.”

More colloquially, their attitudes indicate they are willing to “kick up” at the undeserving rich and “kick down” at the undeserving poor. The question is which they decide to do, which is itself a function of which candidate and party is deemed more interested in middle-class prospects. Anyone watching the presidential campaign ads this year will have noticed a real battle on that front.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.