Introduction

by Ed Kilgore and Andrew Levison

The Democratic Strategist is pleased to present this very important roundtable discussion about progressives and the white working class.

It has become increasingly clear that progressives and Democrats have no alternative except to challenge the hold that conservative and the GOP have established over white working Americans. The “Obama coalition” or “Rising American Electorate” that successfully elected Barack Obama twice to the presidency by itself cannot insure a stable and enduring Democratic majority in Congress or even provide the certainty of electing a Democratic president again in 2016.

To put it simply, there is no practical alternative to expanding the Democratic coalition if we wish to achieve these critically important goals and the group with the greatest potential in this regard is the white working class.

To begin the serious planning necessary to pursue this goal The Democratic Strategist reached out to an extraordinary range of leading progressive and Democratic thinkers and strategists. Even a cursory look at the list of contributors reveals that they represent without the slightest exaggeration the most impressive group brought together to discuss this issue in many decades.

Working in collaboration with The Washington Monthly, The Democratic Strategist recruited two leading progressive and Democratic strategists – Stan Greenberg of the polling firm Democracy Corps and Ruy Teixeira, author of The Emerging Democratic Majority – to review the basic polling and demographic data regarding white working class Americans. We then asked a very large and distinguished group to respond to a key initial question: “What is the most important thing progressives and Democrats can do to regain support among white working class voters?”

The responses covered an extremely wide range of topics and recommendations, some of them familiar and others quite original. But within this wide range of ideas, there were three clear areas of agreement.

  1. Winning greater support from among white working class voters is vitally important. In presidential elections, white working class voters can add the critical margin of safety for a Democratic candidate, in close statewide races they can make the difference between victory and defeat and even in heavily Republican areas, a shift in their attitudes can weaken the very powerful ideological hegemony the GOP now enjoys.
  2. Greater support from the white working class can be won. The large regional variations in Democratic support that exist within the white working class indicate that there are many targets of opportunity. On a national level, winning even just a 10 percent greater share of the white working class vote can contribute a vital 2-2.5 percent increase in the overall presidential vote for a Democratic candidate.
  3. Winning greater support from white working class voters will require a sustained and organized commitment and not just some better TV ads or more sophisticated voter targeting technology. Democratic candidates must offer white working people not simply promises but meaningful and genuine representation.

It cannot be too strongly emphasized that this roundtable is not a one-time event but the beginning of an ongoing process of discussion. The many submissions presented here are best understood as essentially a set of “opening statements” designed to create a starting point for the continuing discussion and planning that has to occur. Over the next weeks and months the conclusions of this initial roundtable will be developed and extended as participants examine more carefully and systematically how to achieve the ambitious
long range goal of increasing white working class support for progressives and the Democratic coalition.

It was not so very long ago that ordinary working Americans were a central pillar of the New Deal coalition and supported its ethos of broadly based progressive change. Every one of the participants in this roundtable forum firmly and deeply believes that they can be once again.