No Monolithic White Working-Class Vote

A New York Times post by Tom Edsall late last night makes an essential point about swing voter categories, and particularly the non-college educated “white working-class vote” that is supposedly the target of both parties this year: it varies significantly by region. National numbers for this demographic are distorted by the disproportionate GOP direction of southern white voters. Elsewhere, Democrats are not doing as poorly as the stereotypes suggest, as Edsall observes from last week’s Public Religion Research Institute report:

Among southern working class whites, Romney leads by 40 points, 62-22, an extraordinary gap.

The story in the rest of the country is different. In the West, where Colorado and Nevada are battleground states, Romney leads by a modest 5 points, 46-41. In the Northeast, which Obama is expected to sweep, except perhaps for New Hampshire, Romney holds a 4-point advantage among working class whites, 42-38. In the Midwest, where Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin are in play, Obama actually leads among working class whites by 8 points (44-36).

This is why Republicans have all but conceded Pennsylvania, which is a state whose demographics (disproportionate number of elderly white voters) always tempt the GOP until Election Day nears. And it’s why the Midwest was such a focus for the Obama campaign during the convention.

Edsall doesn’t mention levels of unionization as a factor in the regional disparities affecting the white working-class vote, but it obviously matters, as does Romney cartoon-character corporate villain persona. Southern white working-class voters may not like Daddy Warbucks types personally, but thanks to the ancient dependence of the region on “outside” investment, they are used to viewing such people (whether they are “yankees” or foreigners) as essential if resented sources of economic development.

If the race tightens even more down the stretch, regional and even single-state variations in key demographic groups are going to matter a lot, so it’s a good idea to get used to thinking about them now.

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.