Democrats Have Their Own Challenges In Talking About Racial Issues In The Trump Era

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Media Outlet: FiveThirtyEight

Lee Drutman's voter study was referenced in Perry Bacon Jr.'s FiveThirtyEight article about the difficulty Democrats are having navigating the new realm of voters and race.

But here’s the big potential problem for Democrats: What if Trump’s victory — carrying more than 200 counties where former President Barack Obama had won in 2008 and 2012 — was not primarily driven by his populist economic appeals, but by his rhetoric and policies around race and identity issues instead? Trump’s denunciations of Black Lives Matter, his embrace of building a wall to keep Mexicans from coming to the U.S., and his proposed temporary ban on Muslims entering the country were just as much a part of his campaign as his promises to bring back coal jobs.
In short, what if the Democrats’ problems with white working-class voters are more about them being white than working-class?
There is reason to be skeptical that economic populism will win back Trump voters for Democrats; some scholars argue that cultural and racial issues were more important than economics to voters who cast a ballot for Obama in 2012 and then Trump in 2016. An analysis by New America’s Lee Drutman (based on a series of polls conducted by YouGov) concluded that Obama-Trump voters had more liberal views on economic issues (like the importance of Social Security and Medicare) but more conservatives ones on cultural issues, such as immigration and their attitudes toward blacks and Muslims.
“The Obama to Trump voter looks very much like [Mitt] Romney to Trump supporters on attitudes toward African-Americans, feelings on immigration, and attitudes toward Muslims. Interestingly, the Obama to Trump voter is not as conservative on moral issues, and looks like a [Hillary] Clinton voter on concerns about inequality,” Drutman wrote.

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Lee Drutman is a senior fellow in the program on political reform at New America. He is the author of The Business of America is Lobbying (Oxford University Press, 2015).