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Politics & Policy

Woke Whites, Working-Class Immigrants, and the Truth about Ocasio-Cortez’s Coalition

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s primary victory over Democratic incumbent Joe Crowley, a member of the House Democratic leadership, has justly attracted a lot of attention, and I’ve written a bit about it myself. You will not be surprised to learn that I have my doubts about the wisdom of her program of, for lack of a better term, open-borders socialism. But I’m confident that my doubts will do nothing to dampen the enthusiasm surrounding her arrival on the national political scene.

To Ocasio-Cortez’s admirers on the left, her success is an indication of the potential of working-class immigrant and second-generation voters to upend the Democratic party’s status quo, and to move it decisively leftward. But was it really working-class naturalized citizens who put Ocasio-Cortez over the top, or was it the left-liberal gentrifiers who’ve streamed into the Queens neighborhoods of Astoria and Sunnyside in recent years? Stephen Smith, a quirky genius who mostly writes on the perils of excessively strict land-use regulations, and whose views are an idiosyncratic blend of libertarian and leftist, took a quick look at the results and observed on Twitter that Ocasio-Cortez’s fared best in Astoria and Sunnyside and somewhat worse in the immigrant-rich precincts East Elmhurst, Elmhurst, Corona, and The Bronx.

To be sure, naturalized citizens are but a subset of the larger immigrant population, which includes large numbers of unauthorized immigrants, so as Smith acknowledges, this pattern of support needn’t tell us very much about the opinions of non-citizens residing in New York’s 14th congressional district. Moreover, it could be that it was the naturalized citizens of Astoria and Sunnyside who provided the bulk of Ocasio-Cortez’s support in those neighborhoods, not the local contingent of woke whites. Nevertheless, one wonders if her rise has been misinterpreted: that it is less a reflection of the rising power of America’s immigrant working class and more a manifestation of a familiar phenomenon, namely the accelerating leftward shift of middle- and upper-middle-class native-born professionals in big coastal cities. That is obviously a rather less romantic story. My guess is that the truth is somewhere in between.


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