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Billionaire cranks corruption and the white working class

by Eric Ferguson on June 4, 2015

Republicans fine with economic inequalityThese three things seem like they might go together. First, Mother Jones has the scorecard of which crank billionaire cranks back which Republican presidential candidates. No billionaire? Then no GOP nomination for you! Second, there’s some seemingly contradictory research showing that the white working class gets how big money and its pet politicians are screwing up the government, and that’s part of why the white working class votes how big money wants them to. Irony hurts.
Not that I think anyone is consciously thinking the way to punish the people who haven’t been able to stop the corruption is to vote for the crooks. That’s just how I read the effect. Stanley Greenburg writes in Washington Monthly about research on white working class voters which finds that they get that money has corrupted politics and they think those in government don’t care about regular people. Though Democrats are losing the white working class, they are more open to a Democratic agenda. They just don’t trust the government to carry it out. They want reform of the process first, before they’re open to a more activist government agenda. Sadly, this means sabotage has worked nicely for Republicans. The whole article deserves a read, but to whet your wonkish appetite:

These voters, as we shall see, are open to an expansive Democratic economic agenda—to more benefits for child care and higher education, to tax hikes on the wealthy, to investment in infrastructure spending, and to economic policies that lead employers to boost salaries for middle- and working-class Americans, especially women. Yet they are only ready to listen when they think that Democrats understand their deeply held belief that politics has been corrupted and government has failed. Championing reform of government and the political process is the price of admission with these voters. These white working-class and downscale voters are acutely conscious of the growing role of big money in politics and of a government that works for the 1 percent, not them.

In recent years, too many Democrats have presumed that the white working class is out of the party’s reach and that talk of reforming government and the political process simply does not move voters. My contention is that both of those presumptions are wrong. An agenda of reform is the key to Democrats winning the greater share of white working-class and unmarried women votes that will give the party the majorities it needs to govern.

Why, then, would working-class voters and lower-income Americans turn to government to bring change? They are not crazy. Everything they have seen says that government is gridlocked and is bought and paid for by big donors and special interests, and politicians rig the system for the most irresponsible companies. Special interests push up spending and lobby for special tax breaks for themselves, and government spends with little thought for the average citizen.
Democrats have run so poorly with white working-class and downscale voters since 2008 that some observers have concluded that Democrats are blocked structurally. Democratic identification with the new American majority presumably puts these white working-class voters out of reach. Trying to win these voters is seen as a fool’s errand.
That conclusion is misguided. First, as we have seen, many white downscale voters in the Democratic base hold similar views about the economy and government as do white working-class swing voters. Second, the conclusion presumes that the white working class is still largely employed in industrial occupations, while, in fact, large portions are lower-paid, service-sector employees, a majority of whom are women. And third, the belief that the white working class is increasingly out of reach for Democrats is to a large degree a story of the South and the rural Conservative Heartland, not the story of white working-class voters in the rest of the country. Democrats still can and do compete for white working-class voters in three-quarters of the country.

Democrats lost badly in the Senate battleground states, located primarily in the South and most rural areas of the country. Yet one of the most effective campaign attacks we tested linked big donations to politicians advancing the interests of wealthy donors who used unlimited, secret money to make sure that billionaires’ and CEOs’ taxes remained artificially low and their loopholes stayed protected.
The power of this attack comes from the central role of the corrupt Washington and Wall Street nexus in the new economy. While working-class men struggled, the Republican candidate was helping government work for big corporations and special interests.
When Democracy Corps tested this attack in Louisiana, North Carolina, Georgia, Iowa, Colorado, and the other Senate battleground states, it was among the most powerful attacks on the Republican candidates.
Of course, none of the Democratic candidates ran that ad. [Presumably Greenburg isn’t counting Minnesota as a Senate battleground, but we’re really a purple state where Al Franken ran the suggested sort of ad.]

We have arrived at a tipping point at the outset of the 2016 election cycle, where the demand to reform government is equal to or stronger than the demand to reform the economy. More accurately, reform can make it possible to use governmental policies to help the middle class. In short, it is reform first. [emphasis mine]
In a straight test, the presidential electorate is as enthusiastic about a reform narrative as the middle-class economic one. The first part of the narrative focuses on big business and special interests that give big money to politicians and then use lobbyists to win special tax breaks and special laws that cost the country billions. The second part emphasizes how special interests and the bureaucracy protect out-of-date programs that don’t work. The bottom line of the narrative is that government reform would free up money so the government could work for middle-class and working families rather than big donors.
Most importantly, when voters hear the reform narrative first, they are then dramatically more open to the middle-class economic narrative that calls for government activism in response to America’s problems.

Knowing the white working class demands reform in government and politics before it will buy into a more liberal economic agenda still doesn’t explain why, when Democrats are imperfect, the white working class defaults to voting Republican. Greenburg speculates that the part of the white working class that’s unreachable for Democrats is that part that’s more race conscious, more religious, and on the rural side of the rural/metro divide. FWIW, that’s what I would have guessed too. It’s a matter of people voting values and culture, even if such a vote seems counter to their self-interest. You can’t talk people out of their identity. That’s also my explanation for rich people who vote for Democrats likely to raise rich people’s taxes. Yet for all that there are whites who’ll never vote for a Democrat, or at least not for a liberal, Greenburg is saying winning more votes is doable. I will add that it’s also necessary, both for a bigger margin of error in presidential races and to win anything that’s districted, like state legislatures and the US House.
That study and MOJO’s scorecard would seem to go with this post by Steve Benen on the blog of The Rachel Maddow Show regarding how Democrats, independents, and all adults tend to be concerned about economic inequality, but Republicans don’t really care:

When respondents are broken down by party, as the above chart shows, Democrats and Independents support efforts to address the wealth gap, but for Republicans, it’s reversed – most GOP voters don’t want the government to try at all.
When broken down by ideology, liberals and moderates support action, but conservatives don’t.
And when broken down by religion, every faith tradition wants to reduce wealth inequality, except white evangelical protestants, who are evenly split on the issue.
Looking at the top-line results, it’s tempting to think Republican policymakers and candidates are foolish to ignore an issue with such broad public backing, but the details matter – Republicans are listening to their base, who vote in primaries, and who are content to see the wealth gap continue to grow without any attempts at federal intervention.

In other words, until we can get Republicans concerned that their general elections are in doubt, they’re going to care only about their primaries. That means only a tiny portion of eligible voters matter to them, and that portion is just fine with the rich getting everything.

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