Karen Nussbaum

How do we counter corporate excess with working-class power? How do we a foster a progressive multi-racial movement and keep the economically fragile, and diminishing, white working class as part of it?

Working America reaches working-class moderates with a conversation about the economy and a focus on greater equity: hundreds of conversations every night, hundreds of thousands a year. Instead of asking them to vote for a particular candidate, we talk with them. Instead of giving them standard campaign rhetoric, we listen.

Chart showing Working America members Obama vs Romney voting margins

And that makes a big difference.

In June of 2012, in Massachusetts, the pick-up-driving Republican Sen. Scott Brown was outpolling pro-worker Democrat Elizabeth Warren by serious margins among white working-class voters. Working America helped change that equation, successfully flipping 8 of 17 towns that had voted for Scott Brown only two years earlier.

How did we do it?  By identifying the people who most needed to hear from us and having thoughtful, personalized conversations with voters about the economic issues that affected them the most: jobs, outsourcing and retirement.

We reminded them of what they already know instinctually: that the corporate interests—and the politicians that support them—are not their friends. When put in those terms, working-class voters were able to see past Sen. Brown’s rhetoric on ‘Obamacare’ or taxes–and his faux working-class persona. As a result, nearly half of the people we engaged ended up switching their vote to Elizabeth Warren—enough to win.

The economic struggles of many white working-class folks, combined with a feeling of powerlessness, have undoubtedly made them much more susceptible to right-wing rhetoric—a major coup for Republicans. But the key to winning over this demographic is more about focusing on the populist issues that plague them, and less about cheap ploys to superficially connect to them. And that can give us the edge.

While Fox News is often the backdrop for our conversations, most working-class people are not right-wing ideologues. They’re looking for solutions to very real problems, and if we walk away, they’re going to get their answers in all the wrong places.

But reach out with meaningful dialogue—and a way to take action together—and we can restore the alliance between working class and progressive, using our shared economic interests as a bridge. And that would make us all more powerful.

Karen Nussbaum, Executive Director of Working America.