Is the White Working Class a Republican identity group?

I like to catch up on my reading of the weekend, it’s the only time my constellation of e-mails, text, messages, slack messages, and phone calls (the future is, in fact, terrible) slows down enough that I can actually read and think about a piece.

So, paging through various things saved to my reading list I found a trend. It’s like machine learning, only with one old slow brain. But sometimes it still works.

Data point 1:

The Center for American Progress published some information about their big roll-up turnout analysis which combines census data (Current Population Survey and American Communities Surveys, various well-conducted academic post-election surveys, and voter file analysis).

The key takeaway among many interesting points which we already knew (such as black turnout rate declining from 2012) is that the exit polls, and thus many analyses of what happened, substantially understated the White Working Class share of the electorate.

These new estimates suggest that White Working Class voters made up 45% of all votes cast while college educated whites made up only 29% of the electorate. Exit polls had suggested an advantage for college-educated white of 37% to 34%.

Data point 2:

The NYT Upshot/Sienna College poll in Virginia was released Sunday. While the topline isn’t all that interesting compared to polling averages (Northam +3), access to detailed cross-tabs reveals one important story.

Gillespie is willing the White Working Class by 63% to 23%. While WWC voters are typically a Republican-leaning group, that 23% for Northam is a pretty stark number.

If the undecideds break lopsidedly for Northam, then perhaps this poll means nothing.

But, if his number stays that low its further evidence that, as several smart folks commented on twitter (and sorry to those smart folks, I didn’t record who you were individually to give you credit), the WWC is behaving like a racial identity group in the same way that we’ve historically seen black voters, for example, behave.

So what?

The outcome in Virginia will be important to watch. If the WWC is indeed behaving more and more like a racial identity group, it has some important implications for 2018 (and beyond).

In fact, it probably has enough implications that I could spill a few tens of thousands of words on them. And I probably will. But for now, a few quick ideas of what it might mean:

  • Expect to see a lot more of the sorts of ads that drive the DC press corps nuts—confederate monuments, criminal gangs, and amnesty for illegal immigrants are all issues that signal to these voters that a candidate sees thing from their point of view.
  • The opioid epidemic will be a profoundly important issue. Opioids are destroying WWC communities (and many other communities) and the sincere belief that a candidate understands and cares about this issue is going a critical factor in mobilizing these voters.
    • Look for a prosecution (of drug companies, distributors, and traffickers of the non-prescription opioids) versus treatment divide to start to emerge between Republicans and Democrats. If Republicans can capture the anger that these problems have been overlooked for so long, it’s a huge win.
    • Republican politicians with too-cozy relationships with drug companies and others implicated in this crisis are in real trouble.
  • Democrats who are still trying to play “how do we win the WWC” may be making a big mistake. As Republicans have learned after more than a generation of trying to win black votes based on agreement on some issues and policies that would actually help many blacks, identity voting is a tough thing to overcome.
  • There is a long-term challenge for Republicans in this new alignment because the WWC is rapidly shrinking as a fraction of the overall population. To build a sustainable coalition on top of a WWC base we will need to message to their concerns in a way that still gives us the ability to win college educated white, Hispanic, and Asian votes.