November 28, 2011

LinkWorking Class Zero: Early on in an analytical piece about the President's reelection strategy comes this little nugget:

For decades, Democrats have suffered continuous and increasingly severe losses among white voters. But preparations by Democratic operatives for the 2012 election make it clear for the first time that the party will explicitly abandon the white working class.

All pretense of trying to win a majority of the white working class has been effectively jettisoned in favor of cementing a center-left coalition made up, on the one hand, of voters who have gotten ahead on the basis of educational attainment — professors, artists, designers, editors, human resources managers, lawyers, librarians, social workers, teachers and therapists — and a second, substantial constituency of lower-income voters who are disproportionately African-American and Hispanic.

It is instructive to trace the evolution of a political strategy based on securing this coalition in the writings and comments, over time, of such Democratic analysts as Stanley Greenberg and Ruy Teixeira. Both men were initially determined to win back the white working-class majority, but both currently advocate a revised Democratic alliance in which whites without college degrees are effectively replaced by well-educated socially liberal whites in alliance with the growing ranks of less affluent minority voters, especially Hispanics. [emphasis mine]

I wonder when the term "working class" went from being a description of those who engage in manual labor for a paycheck, to a somewhat dispargaging term referring to educational underachieving. The use of the term "working class" to describe anyone who lacks a college degree seems rather arbitrary, and doesn't provide much in the way of analytical value, since it includes Bill Gates, Gwyneth Paltrow, the late Steve Jobs, and the Kardashian sisters as "working class," while expelling any autoworker with a degree from Wayne State from the ranks of the proletariat.

As a demographic term used in political analysis, I fail to see why this term is useful, unless one wants to make the elitist argument that white people who aren't well-educated lean Republican. If there is one group that has been most dramatically impacted by the Great Recession, it's low-to-medium wage college graduates, a group that is particularly susceptible to an appeal based on economic populism. On the other hand, if you want to dig deeper and understand the political biases of those who work for someone else for a living, merely using a label based on educational accomplishments won't get you there.