White People Problems.

My blogmate Monica has been banging this drum for a minute, but John Sides looks at some new research that contradicts a bunch of the ideas about the voting habits of working class whites.  Sides finds that the white working class is hardly a monolith, and says that studies show that they’re less motivated by social issues when they vote than are white people with college educations. (Working class whites aren’t any more likely to rock with tea party groups, according to this study.) Sides found that the idea that poor white folks “vote against their economic interests” by casting ballots for Republicans just doesn’t hold up:

Among whites without a college degree, income has become a stronger predictor of the vote over time. But actually it’s those with less income, not more income, who are more likely to support Democratic presidential candidates. And again, there certainly no trend by which whites with below-average incomes and no college degree become more Republican.

Kevin Drum chimes in, saying that despite the oft-repeated mantra on cable news, most working class whites like Obama just fine:

Democrats in general, and Obama in particular, don’t really have a huge “white working class problem.” What they have is a huge Southern problem…

In the West, Midwest, and Northeast, the white working class vote is fairly evenly split. Romney is slightly ahead in the West and Northeast, while Obama is slightly ahead in the Midwest. It’s only in the South that the white working class vote is overwhelmingly Republican, and this is what skews the national results, which show Romney ahead 48%-35%.

Obama’s issues with white folks — or Southern whites, really — isn’t a new phenomenon for Democratic presidential candidates. They haven’t won a majority of white voters since 1964, which not coincidentally, was the year LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act. (That may sound surprising, until you realize that Democrats have had a pretty bad run on the presidential level over the last half century, only winning four elections since ‘64.) The Act’s passage help speed up the defection of Southern whites from the Democratic ranks that had been underway since FDR’s presidency.

Two other things from the study that jumped out:

  • A plurality (46%) of white working-class Americans believe that capitalism and the free market system are at odds with Christian values, while 38% disagree.
  • Over 6-in-10 (62%) white working-class Americans favor raising the tax rate on Americans with household incomes of over $1 million per year.




Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs and reports on race and ethnicity for NPR's Code Switch team.
  • Cannoneo

    Check out also this analysis by John Quiggin pointing out that Republicans do much better with middle-to-high-income whites lacking college degrees (who fit certain definitions of working-class) than they do with whites in the lower income brackets.


    This suggests that better-off whites who claim to speak for the cultural identity of the working class (the kind the media likes to quote) are really more representative of their income bracket.

    • This is really interesting:

      …the biggest group in the Republican voting base, and the group with which they do best is that of middle/high income whites without college degrees (the percentage after the group name gives the Republican share of the vote for that group). There’s nothing surprising in this, since all three variables are correlated with Republican voting. It’s the practice of calling this group “working class” that causes the confusion.

      Disaggregating, the extreme case is that of high-school educated whites with incomes over $150K, 81.7 per cent of whom supported the Republicans in 2008. They’re a small group of course, but not negligible at about 1 per cent of the sample (155 out of 19170).

  • sherifffruitfly

    (shrug) it’s the ubiquitous elephant in the room. southern white folks are, and always have been, the basic problem – as an aggregate. but we white folks have gone so whole-hog on “LEAVE SOUTHERN WHITE FOLKS ALONE” bullshit, that we have aggregate-culturally lost track of this country’s-most-obvious-fact.

    the problem is southern white folks. the problem has always been southern white folks. the problem will remain southern white folks.

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  • Sounds like we might could have another party in this country if a good amount of folks were willing to put in serious work.

  • I clearly screwed up that blockquote I was trying to quote “(46%) of white working-class Americans believe that capitalism and the free market system are at odds with Christian values”