‘Democrats see ordinary Americans as the great unwashed’

Ruy Teixeira on how the Democratic Party abandoned the working class.


Topics Politics USA

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Who would vote for the Democrats now? Certainly not working-class Americans. Once the voice of the union man, the Democratic Party is now more interested in acting as a mouthpiece for the college-educated elites. These supposed progressives care more about imposing woke ideology and Net Zero penury on ordinary people, than they do about improving their lives. And yet Democrats remain baffled as to why working-class voters are turning to Donald Trump.

Ruy Teixeira, co-author of Where Have All the Democrats Gone?, joined Brendan O’Neill on the latest episode of The Brendan O’Neill Show to discuss all this and more. What follows is an edited extract from their conversation. Listen to the full episode here.

Brendan O’Neill: How did the Democrats lose so much of their working-class voter base so quickly?

Ruy Teixeira: On a raw, empirical level, the Democrats are rapidly losing the support of working-class Americans. In 2020, Biden lost non-college-educated and working-class voters, which was very unusual for the Democrats until recently.

Now there’s been an even greater deterioration of working-class support for Biden and the Democrats. Trump is beating Biden by 14 points among working-class voters in the polls – that’s a 10-point increase compared with 2020. But Biden is up more than 15 points among college-educated voters. We’re seeing this kind of educational polarisation not just among white voters, but also among other racial groups.

In a pure, nose-counting sense, the Republicans have indeed replaced the Democrats as the party of the working classes. And there’s a very simple reason for this. The Democratic Party lost a lot of white working-class voters in the last half of the 20th century, because it embraced soft neoliberalism. Slowly but surely, working-class voters became less convinced that the Democrats were on their side when it came to economic issues. In fact, the Democrats began adopting what economists called the ‘compensate the losers’ strategy, which promised to transfer the benefits of neoliberal globalisation to the masses. But this never really happened.

More recently, we’ve seen the Democrats become increasingly responsive to an ever-more important part of their base. That is, the liberal, college-educated, incredibly sensitive white voter. These voters are interested in social, cultural and political issues that are utterly alien to what most working-class voters care about – be they black, white or Hispanic. It’s almost unimaginable that the Democratic Party of 30 years ago would have been on board with radical attitudes toward defunding the police, gender-affirming care, relaxed border controls and the endless hectoring about racial ‘equity’.

Back then, the Democratic Party had enough common sense, and enough anchoring in the working classes, to avoid these divisive ideas. But nowadays, the party is steered by voters from the commanding heights of cultural production. The party is particularly responsive to these voters because, quite frankly, they need their money and support.

Obviously, Democrats in competitive districts aren’t going to run on platforms like ‘defunding the police’ and providing gender-affirming care – but the party is still the party. And its image is antithetical to what a lot of working-class people are comfortable with or believe in.

These days, you could reasonably argue that the Democrats are actually anti-working-class. Of course, the party will always argue that it still pursues policies in the economic interests of the working classes. But in a lot of ways, Democrats really don’t like working people. They treat ordinary Americans as the great unwashed. In books like White Rural Rage, which are popular in Democratic circles, rural Americans are painted as xenophobic, authoritarian troglodytes opposed to everything that decent people stand for. The Democrats are meant to be the party of the working classes, and yet its members outright resent them.

O’Neill: Would you say that working-class voters turned their backs on the Democrats for cultural reasons or are the economic factors more important?

Teixeira: It’s definitely a combination of the two. There’s an old, well-known Gallup poll that asks voters which party will do the best job of keeping America prosperous and secure in the next few years. Democrats used to have a huge advantage on this issue, particularly among working-class voters. In the 70s and 80s, however, that advantage really started disappearing – and it’s never come back. To this day, Democrats are rated below the Republicans on which party can keep the country prosperous.

More recently, the Democrats have gone far beyond the popular ideals of tolerance, opposing discrimination and supporting equality of opportunity. These common-sense positions have been replaced with boutique ideas in support of ‘reverse discrimination’ and the non-existence of the gender binary. This radical push has led to the ‘culturalisation’ of important economic and political issues in the US. The climate issue is a perfect example of this.

The culture of the Democratic Party has evolved in a way that makes achieving a sensible industrial policy quite difficult. Instead of propping up competitive industries, like oil and gas, the Democrats have adopted this green-oriented approach favouring renewable energy and electric vehicles. Working-class people simply aren’t interested in this. And they especially aren’t interested when their energy bills start rising. Fundamentally, environmentalism has evolved from protecting the environment and reducing pollution into an apocalyptic crusade against global warming.

None of this makes economic sense and it doesn’t do a lot of good for the working class. But when the party culture is constructed in such a way that the highly educated and hyper-liberal have all the power, this is exactly the kind of nonsense you’re going to get. The climate, after all, is a huge issue for the elites. They don’t care if it ranks 17th on the list of priorities for ordinary, working-class people. They’re going to pursue radical climate policies anyway. It’s just one example of how cultural radicalism has completely infected the Democrats’ approach to economic issues.

Democrats have ceased asking themselves the fundamental question: ‘How are we going to make the lives of working-class people better?’ Sensing this, working Americans are looking elsewhere.

Ruy Teixeira was talking to Brendan O’Neill on The Brendan O’Neill Show. Watch the full conversation here:

Picture by: Ruy Teixeira.

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Topics Politics USA


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