Regaining Control of the Working Class

 Regaining Control of the Working Class

Regaining Control of the Working Class

Biden received 34% of the white working-class vote in Pennsylvania, compared to 32% for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the Keystone State in 2016. In Wisconsin, Biden received 41% of the white working-class vote, compared to 34% for Clinton in 2016.


That's hardly a groundswell, but it demonstrates how small shifts in the vote can mean the difference between a win and a loss, according to experts.

Ryan, now a congressman, is making a similar appeal in Ohio, though his odds are higher because Ohio, a once-swing state, has steadily shifted toward Republicans over the last two decades. However, Ryan is hoping to make enough inroads with the working-class vote to join the state's only statewide-elected Democrat, Sen. Sherrod Brown, in the Senate by focusing heavily on trade, jobs, and manufacturing investment.


Democrats have lost non-college educated, white voters because they "see them as the party of elites," focusing on issues such as LGBTQ rights, abortion, and other social and cultural issues "that are not central to the economic declines these communities are facing," according to Lisa Pruitt, a law professor at UC Davis who has written extensively about the working class. "It's really hurt them."


Democrats have capitalized on the country's shift toward majority-minority status, portraying themselves as the voice of inclusion, representing Black and brown communities as well as new immigrants. While this may pay off electorally as demographics shift, experts say pockets of white, working-class voters in key states are helping Republicans maintain power.


Former President Donald Trump, for example, received 68 percent of the white, non-college educated vote in 2016, with similarly lopsided majorities in key states such as Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.


However, removing a small number of those voters was crucial for President Joe Biden in 2020, when the Democrat returned Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin to the blue side of the electoral ledger.

But, according to Madonna, former Braddock, Pennsylvania mayor Fetterman, whose coal country roots give him some credibility among that voter group, "has worked hard to connect with working men and women, with working class voters."

The state of Pennsylvania. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is running for a U.S. Senate seat against Mehmet "Dr." Oz, and he appears to be positioned to give Democrats a pickup in the 50-50 Senate. In redder-tinged Ohio, Democrat Tim Ryan faces a tougher battle, but polls show him neck and neck with Republican opponent J.D. Vance, a former venture capitalist and author of "Hillbilly Elegy."


Both men are engaging in some counter-programming while campaigning in states that have become less friendly to Democrats in recent years. Even as the Democratic Party is losing ground among non-college educated, white voters, Fetterman and Ryan are making a direct appeal to working-class voters, portraying their GOP opponents as elitists who don't understand post-industrial America's struggles.


"The working class, defined as those with a high school diploma or less, are culturally conservative, support the Second Amendment, and oppose climate change legislation. They've abandoned the Democratic Party "G. Terry Madonna, senior fellow in residence at Millersville University of Pennsylvania and a seasoned pollster in the state, agrees.

One Senate candidate is a scathing Twitter troll who rarely wears anything more formal than a hoodie and baggy shorts. The other bemoans the loss of manufacturing jobs, China's economic threat, and the blows to America's working class.


They're both middle-aged white men, both Democrats up against celebrity-candidate Republicans, and both could be the key to regaining control of one chamber of Congress for a party that has branded itself as the party of diversity and has been shifting to the left.

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