November 15, 2021 - 10:00am

The Rightward drift of the working-class vote is one of the most important political trends of our time. But what about the working-class voters who have yet to join this exodus?

They’re important too. The Left can’t win with the support of middle-class progressives alone — it needs to make the most of what remains of its working-class base. But how?

From an American angle, that’s a question that Jacobin, a Left-wing journal, set out to explore in collaboration with YouGov and the Center for Working-Class Politics. The study is worth delving into in detail, but this is the gist of it.

The polling focused on Americans without a college degree. Self-declared Republicans were then excluded from the sample — presumably because they’re considered a lost cause. So all of the findings relate to the opinions of working-class Democrats, swing voters and non-voters.

As for ideology, five options were offered. A generic Republican for purposes of comparison — and then four flavours of Democrat: “populist progressive” (e.g. Bernie Sanders); “woke progressive” (e.g. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez); “woke moderate” (e.g. Kamala Harris); and “mainstream moderate” (e.g. Joe Biden). The respective British equivalents might be Paul Embery, Owen Jones, Keir Starmer and Tony Blair.

The generic Republican candidate was by far the least popular option — which is entirely unsurprising because committed Republican voters were excluded from the survey. But what kind of Democrat did the rest of the working-class prefer? Here’s the key point:

“Candidates whose campaigns focused primarily on universalist policy issues such as jobs, health care, and the economy performed better than those who focused on group-specific policies, such as racial justice or immigration. In addition, woke messaging decreased the appeal of other candidate characteristics.”
- Jacobin

Several things jump out from the results. Firstly, a complete lack of preference as to the sex and race of the candidates. If progressives are failing to win over working-class voters it’s not because they don’t want women and non-whites as their political representatives. However, the survey group did prefer candidates with a working-class background.

What’s more, the preference for populism over wokery was especially pronounced among blue-collar workers outside of the Democrats’ urban strongholds.

Might the Dems be able to expand their voter base by mobilising habitual non-voters? The report warns that these are dangerous waters to be fishing in. In particular, the authors dismiss the notion that there’s some untapped reserve of support just waiting for a Left-wing saviour:

“Non-voters favoured more conservative candidates than voters in terms of partisan preferences and key policy issues. Overall, we find little support for the idea, suggested by progressive candidates like Sanders, that increasing turnout among low-propensity voters will naturally benefit progressive politicians.”
- Jacobin

I wonder, though, what would happen if this group were to be given other choices. The survey only offered one populist option — progressive populism. It’s possible that other kinds of populism would be much more effective.

America has a vast number of non-voters, 80 million according to the report. What if Donald Trump was only skimming the surface?

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.