I read this survey report with some interest over the weekend.

Entitling the report “Beyond Guns and God,” the authors clearly want us to cease clinging bitterly to our caricatures about the white working class. To that end, they “challenge five myths” about their subject.

  • There’s really no difference between working class and college-educated Americans in their identification with the Tea Party.

  • Religion and the work ethic remain alive and well.

  • There’s nothing the matter with Kansas. While members of the white working class who earn more than $30,000 per year support Romney over Obama 51-38 percent, those with lower incomes or who have accepted food stamps in the past two years, dispaly somewaht different preferences (42-39 for Romney in the first instance, 48-36 for Obama in the second).

  • White working class voters care much more about the economy than about social issues, regarding which they’re pretty evenly divided.

  • There’s a strong strain of economic populism in this group, and less support for the free market.

There are all sorts of nuggets buried in the report, and not entirely captured by the executive summary. For example, on social issues, there are significant regional (and religious) differences within the working class. Northeastern members of the working class take liberal stances on same-sex marriage (57-37)  and abortion (59-33), while their southern brethren are significantly more conservative (32-61 and 42-54). Stated another way, Catholic members of the working class (well-represented in the Northeast) are more liberal, Protestant (especially evangelical) members of the working class (well-represented in the South) are more socially conservative. Class is less important than religious affiliation here.

Virtually across the board, white working class respondents evince a preference for Romney over Obama (48-35). The most pronounced preferences come from Southerners (62-22), those over 65 (56-31), Protestants (56-27), and men (55-28). Women are evenly divided (41-41), while working class whites in the Midwest actually favor Obama (44-36). The authors don’t attempt to explain this last outlier, but I’d guess that some combination of lower income, use of food stamps, and labor union membership might be factors connected with it.

On the basis of what I’ve said so far, I can offer no good short-term political advice to Republicans. I suppose that if there were fewer labor unionists and more evangelicals in the Midwest, Romney would be the front-runner. Both developments may well occur, but not before November. Even more likely in the long(ish) run (but also not before November) is a continued migration of people from the Midwest to regions of the country (especially the South and Southwest) where there are fewer labor unions and more evangelical churches. To the degree that migrants adapt to rather than transform their surroundings, this might well lead to a more pronounced preference among white working class voters for Republican candidates as time passes.

I’ll have more to say in another post about what sorts of lessons we can draw from this survey.

Articles by Joseph Knippenberg


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