When I wrote How to Win Rural Voters Without Losing Liberal Values for the June/July/August issue of the Washington Monthly, I was seeking a way for the Democrats to win back the White House, the House of Representatives, and control of state legislatures. The title of the piece carried more meaning than you might think, because it wasn’t solely about the moral quandary of courting the votes of so-called “deplorables.” It was part of my thesis that a party dependent primarily on affluent, well-educated suburbanites would do a poor job of being an advocate for working class men and women, irrespective of their race. For a host of reasons, I wanted the Democrats to pursue a broad front strategy, and I absolutely believed that Trump’s complete dominance of white working class voters was reversible.
I might have argued that Trump was certain to be such a colossal screw up that he’d lose a significant chunk of his support, but that would have hardly created a blueprint for action. I wasn’t content to act on faith, which is why I emphasized the importance of Democrats taking antitrust enforcement seriously, in an effort to revitalize small business ownership and opportunity throughout small town America. As it turns out, the Democrats didn’t have to do much of anything but sit back and let Trump alienate first the suburbs and now the remainder of the country.
That’s not entirely accurate, actually, because while suburban seats formed the basis for the new Democratic House majority after the 2018 midterms, the Republicans actually lost a higher percentage of their support in safely red districts. The “deplorable” defection was significant two years ago, it just didn’t have much of an effect. It’s a process that has sped up and now threatens to have a huge effect.
Harry Enten explains for CNN that white working class voters have turned on Trump to a significant degree.
Biden has clear leads in an average of the last three CNN approved polls in the states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. On average, Biden is up by 9 points in Michigan, 11 points in Pennsylvania and 10 points in Wisconsin.
Biden’s upward trajectory is because of vast improvements among White voters in a comparison of Biden’s standing in each poll to how Clinton did with them…
…Still, the size of Biden’s rise over Clinton in these states is clear enough that it’s well outside the range of any statistical anomaly.
- Michigan: Trump leads by an average of 3 points among White voters. Four years ago, Trump won amongst these voters by 15 points.
- Pennsylvania: Biden is ahead by 3 points with White voters. In 2016, Trump won them by 15 points.
- Wisconsin: Biden’s up by 6 points with White voters. Last election, Trump took them by 7 points.
These are three important states, but the collapse of Trump’s advantage with white voters is having an impact on races in every state, including Republican strongholds like Texas, Georgia, Arizona, and Kansas. It was never true that white working class voters were inseparably wed to Donald Trump. They still form his strongest group of support, but they were a bedrock part of the New Deal Democratic coalition for a reason. They knew the Republicans were the party for their factory bosses and distant plutocrats. They belonged to a working man’s party until the economy stopped delivering them a decent lifestyle, and then they became susceptible to highly targeted media-driven efforts to appeal to their basest instincts and cultural alienation.
They’re still susceptible to those messages, but they’re turning on Trump because he’s manifestly terrible at his job. It won’t take too much of a defection for “safe” red districts and states to begin to fall in the Democrats’ column. And that will have one big consequence. For the first time in a long time, the country will get less polarized. It will be less polarized geographically, and also less polarized by race and culture. As a result, the country will become more governable.
There will be Democrats who don’t want these voters in their coalition, just as there are Democrats who don’t welcome the #NeverTrumpers who brought us Dick and George’s Excellent Adventure in Iraq. They won’t be reliable allies or stalwart members of the base. But, on many economic issues, they can be crucial supporters. If you want a higher minimum wage, a more comprehensive health care system, and the breakup of super-monopolies that are stifling economic opportunity, these folks are going to be very helpful.
Large, durable political majorities have always included some “deplorables.” Lincoln’s Republican Party took in the Know-Nothings. FDR’s majority was anchored in the segregated South. Big majorities make it possible to do big things, and that’s what the country needs right now.