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Poll Reveals Democrats' Working Class White Out

October 6, 2010

Somewhere, Wall Street Journal columnist and What's the Matter with Kansas author Thomas Frank is shaking his head. In 2004, Frank detailed how the GOP successfully turned to divisive social issues and fear-mongering to persuade working class whites in his home state to consistently vote against their own economic self-interest. Now, a new AP-GfK poll reveals that heading into the midterms, the losers of the latest outbreak of Republican class warfare are nonetheless deserting the Democrats in ever greater numbers.
In 2008, Barack Obama captured 43% of the white vote overall, compared to 41% for John Kerry and 42% for Al Gore. But as AP reported today, the 11% margin white voters without four-year college degrees gave to Republican congressional candidates in two years ago is on a pace to double in 2010:

An Associated Press-GfK poll shows whites without four-year college degrees preferring GOP candidates by twice the margin of the last two elections, when Democrats made significant gains in the House and Senate. The poll, conducted last month, found this group favoring GOP hopefuls 58 percent to 36 percent -- a whopping 22 percentage-point gap.

But as the AP's anecdotes suggest, while these "older and more conservative" voters are "likelier than better-educated whites to dislike Obama personally," their disdain apparently has little to do with the substance of Democratic policies. After all, from passing middle class tax cuts and extending unemployment benefits to expanding the minimum wage and so much more, Democrats fought and delivered on behalf of working Americans.
The AP-GfK survey revealed that "working-class whites were likelier than white college graduates to say their families are suffering financially and to have a relative who's recently lost a job" and "more critical of how Democrats are handling the economy." A case in point:

"They try to make everybody think the economy is better, and it isn't," Jennifer Moore, 40, a school bus driver from Amherst, Va., said of Democrats. "Gas prices are going up, food is going up and people working for the minimum wage can't make it."

Of course, it was Democrats who overcame Republican opposition to increase the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25. (And not only do blue states generally have wage floors higher than the federal mandate, but provide better working conditions overall.) And now, Republican candidates across the country, including Linda McMahon (Connecticut), Joe Miller (Alaska), Tom Emmer (Minnesota) and Chris Dudley (Oregon), are insisting "we ought to review" the minimum wage which, it is claimed, is "unconstitutional." Amplifying their detachment from and disdain for working Americans is the embarrassing fact that McMahon and RNC chairman Michael Steele don't even know what the current minimum wage rate is.
Meanwhile, at a time of record income inequality and rising poverty, virtually every Republican candidate for national office, as well as the GOP "Pledge to America" and the Tea Party "Contract from America," is backing another $700 billion tax cut windfall for the wealthy. And while President Obama and Democrats in Congress delivered as promised a massive working class tax cut to over 95% of working households, every Republican in the House and all but three in the Senate voted against it. (As Steve Benen noted, the tax relief contained in the Obama stimulus package was the simply the Biggest. Tax Cut. Ever.)
And yet, the AP suggests, white working class voters are siding with the defenders of the gilded class:

"Democrats are more apt to mess with the middle class and take our money," said Lawrence Ramsey, 56, a warehouse manager in Winston-Salem, N.C.

This phenomenon is particularly pronounced among backers of the Tea Party. As CBS reported earlier this year:

Of people who support the grassroots, "Tea Party" movement, only 2 percent think taxes have been decreased, 46 percent say taxes are the same, and a whopping 44 percent say they believe taxes have gone up.

And then there's the issue of unemployment benefits. This summer, united Senate Republicans blocked the extension of jobless benefits for 50 days. (After the midterms, as Huffington Post's Arthur Delaney explained today, "Congress will have only two weeks and seven voting days to reauthorize extended unemployment benefits before they expire" again.)
But the GOP wasn't content to merely stand in the way of jobless benefits for the unemployed; Republicans taunted them as well. While Jon Kyl (R-AZ) called the extension of jobless aid and COBRA benefits "a disincentive for them to seek new work," Nevada GOP Senate hopeful Sharron Angle called recipients "spoiled." Adding insult to injury, South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley called for mandatory drug testing of those receiving unemployment benefits:

"I'm gonna push to make sure that if someone fails a drug test in this state, that we are not gonna pay benefits," Haley said at a press conference outside the S.C Department of Employment and Workforce. "That's something I'm gonna push for, I think people of this state deserve that. Personal responsibility matters and we're gonna continue to fight that fight."

And so it goes.
Of course, one's economic class is not political destiny. After all, the affluent not only voted for Barack Obama despite his pledge to raise their taxes, polls show they continue to support ending the Bush tax cut payday for those earning over $250,000 a year. But the data is clear. No only did working Americans' incomes sink during George W. Bush's tenure, but he delivered the worst economic performance of any president since Herbert Hoover.
And now, apparently, working class white voters are tacitly endorsing a return to those same catastrophic policies. What's the matter with Kansas is now what's the matter with matter with America.

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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