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Kenworthy, Barringer, Duerr and Schneider on the Democrats and Working Class Whites

Abstract: We explore defection of working-class whites from the Democratic party since the mid 1970s. Identification with the Democrats among this group fell by twenty percentage points in the late 1970s and the 1980s and has not changed since then. We consider the impact of compositional shifts and issues on this development and find that the latter played a far more important role. Working-class whites who turned away from the Democrats appear to have done so in part because their views shifted to the right on some issues, in part because they perceived the Democrats as shifting to their left on some issues, in part because some issues on which they were never aligned with the party’s positions increased in importance to them, and in part because they lost confidence in the Democrats’ ability to deliver on key issues. We conclude that material issues were a more important cause of the decline in Democratic identification than social/cultural ones. The lack of change in Democratic identification among working-class whites since the early 1990s appears to have been due to an increase in the importance of social/cultural issues and to a cohort effect.

Lane Kenworthy, Sondra Barringer, Daniel Duerr, and Garrett Andrew Schneider (2007). “The Democrats and Working-Class Whites.” Unpublished paper. Available here.

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