Has Barack Obama’s Democratic party given up on winning the votes of the white working class? Thomas Edsall, the longtime Washington Post reporter now with the Huffington Post, thinks so.
Surveying the plans of Democratic strategists, Edsall wrote in the New York Times on November 28 that “all pretense of trying to win a majority of the white working class has been effectively jettisoned.”
Of course, an Obama campaign spokesman issued a prompt denial. No campaign wants any groups of voters to know that it has written them off.
But Edsall is plainly on to something. Obama campaign strategists have made it known that they are concentrating on states like Colorado and Virginia — states with high percentages of college-educated voters, young voters, and minorities.
Obama carried both these states in 2008, even though Republican presidential candidates had carried Virginia in every election and Colorado in all but one election between 1964 and 2004.
Not all Democrats accept the Colorado/Virginia strategy. William Galston, a top domestic aide in the Clinton White House, has argued that the Obama campaign should concentrate on states like Ohio, with an older and more blue-collar population.
Only one Democrat in the last century has won the presidency without carrying Ohio, Galston points out. If John Kerry had run just two points stronger there in 2004, he would have been elected president.
And Ohio’s demographics look a lot like those in Pennsylvania, which Obama carried by ten points in 2004 but where he is now running behind in the polls.
But Galston’s advice has been spurned, and perhaps that just reflects an acceptance of a longstanding reality.
For the Democratic party has not been the party of the white working class for a very long time. Democrats lost the support of white non-college voters starting in the late 1960s, as rioters burned city ghettos and college campuses were beset by student rebellions.
Democratic politicians responded by seeking to assuage what they considered to be righteous grievances.
For more than 50 years, from 1917 to 1968, the Democrats were the more hawkish of the two major parties, more likely than Republicans to support military intervention. Since 1968, they have been the more dovish party.
For more than 30 years, from 1933 to 1964, the Democrats pushed programs designed to help the working class: Social Security and Medicare, FHA home-mortgage loans, support for labor unions. But since the middle 1960s, when anti-poverty programs took center stage, Democrats in Washington and big cities have pushed welfare programs for the poor and lenient measures against crime.
The Democrats’ shift produced vote gains in some segments of the electorate. Blacks, who voted 62 percent for John Kennedy, have voted about 90 percent Democratic starting in 1964.