The Corner

Politics & Policy

Why Democrats Lost the White Working Class

Ezra Klein has an interview with Barack Obama where Klein makes this point: “In 2012, you won noncollege whites making less than $27,000 a year. Donald Trump then won them by more than 20 points.”

Matt Yglesias has an interesting post taking issue with Obama’s response, which blamed the changed media environment for Democrats losing these voters. Instead, Yglesias thinks it’s that Obama was relatively moderate on cultural issues compared to where Democrats are now:

Obama says “people knew I was left on issues like race, or gender equality, and L.G.B.T.Q. issues and so forth.”

But did they? Throughout the 2008 campaign, Obama maintained that as a matter of fundamental religious conviction, he believed marriage was between a man and a woman. Now, I think it is also true that Obama clearly signaled through elite networks that he would appoint Supreme Court justices who were likely to be sympathetic to LGBT rights plaintiffs. But at a time when marriage equality was unpopular, Obama said he was against it — changing his mind only once it got over 50%.

On race, did Obama have a “left” position? He is Black, obviously, and that was a big part of how people reacted to him politically.

But read Ta-Nehisi Coates on “How The Obama Administration Talks to Black America” or Jelani Cobb on “The Politics of Black Aspiration” or Jamelle Bouie on “What Obama Didn’t Say in His March on Washington Speech.”

These are all articles by formidable Black intellectuals taking serious issue with Obama’s approach to racial issues.

Then, there’s immigration:

Obama was clearly the more immigration-friendly candidate relative to Romney’s idea of “self-deportation.” But Obama was maintaining considerable distance between himself and immigration activists in order to reduce the distance between himself and Romney.

Yglesias concludes, rightly I believe:

In most respects, I think I like the contemporary Democratic Party’s message better than I liked its 2012- or certainly 2008-vintage message.

But I am not a swing voter, and I don’t live in a swing state or even have representation in the United States Senate. What’s changed is that Democrats went from being an urban-based diverse party that nonetheless tried pretty hard to pander to the views of rural white people in hopes of getting the voters of the poorer and less-religious among them, to becoming a party that decided it would be unnecessary or immoral to pander like that.


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