by Peter Franklin
Monday, 15
November 2021

American voters prefer populism to wokeness

Especially if they're working class
by Peter Franklin
He’s running off to vote for a populist. Credit: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

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?

Join the discussion

  • I’d say Paul Embury is a working class social conservative/economic socialist. Bernie Sanders? I wouldn’t say so…

  • I had a look at the study on a “know your enemy” basis, but couldn’t get through it. Populism does seem to cross political boundaries sometimes, as many of the people who liked Bernie Sanders voted for Trump, as an outsider who actively attacked “the Swamp.”
    What they, and the author of this article completely fails to grasp, is that the official position of the Democratic Party is hatred of straight white people, capitalism, the supposed “patriarchy,” the nuclear family, and the traditions and customs that go with it. Show your contempt for America by not standing for the National Anthem. Sit down. Take a knee. Turn your back. Since most Americans don’t instinctively hate these things–many find them just fine–it’s a hard sell, though beginning in early years of schools is a capital idea and seems to be working. The NEA–a teachers union 3mm strong–has taken hard left positions on Corona, teaching racial hatred, and many other things. They see their job as making white people hate themselves and it seems to be working.
    Tip O’Neill, a former Speaker of the House (Nancy Pelosi of old) famously quipped that “all politics is local.” Maybe then. Today, all politics is racial–definitely in America, maybe in the UK and other places too, to a growing extent. What may not initially seem racial definitely is, when you follow the money.
    None of this will matter much, as a civil war is coming.
    Lock and load!

  • As an American, I don’t think this is quite right, at least on the concept of gov’t capture. Yes, at a superficial level the party controls who goes into positions of power in the gov’t, which are commonly referred to as political posts. And that is to help direct the nation in the manner chosen by the voters in their last election. The base level, day-to-day operations of the departments are run by the civil service, which is supposedly non-partisan.
    But this group has been captured by the left, on a moderate-to-rabid range. And therein lays the problem. The group of government workers has so-called civil service protections, in that they are very difficult to fire or otherwise get rid of, but are so politically entrenched as to be an extra-legal force. A force that is as hard to move as a mountain when they drag their feet, but quick to jump when they feel threatened, a la Trump and an angry electorate.
    From what I have seen, this is much like the BBC, and it’s “lovies” as I hear them called. Maybe I am wrong, but I don’t think so. The organization is so captured by a certain set of politics that it can no longer see what it is supposed to do and instead inserts those politics at every opportunity. Which leads to a fun-house mirror version of reality.
    The problem, at least here in the US, is that the feeding grounds for this group of people, universities, have become so closed-minded, bigoted if you will, that a huge chunk of graduates have picked up that bigotry and carried it forward in their lives.

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