First published at The Liberal Patriot

On the individual level, of course, a working class (noncollege) vote is worth no more than any other vote. But considered in terms of the group as a whole, the calculus is quite different.

Nationally and in every state, the working class vote is far larger than the college-educated vote. Because of this, if education polarization increases in the manner it has recently, with the college-educated moving toward the Democrats while the working class becomes more Republican, equal-sized shifts favor the GOP. For example, looking first at the national distribution, since the working class share of voters is 70 percent larger than the college-educated share (63 percent noncollege/37 percent college, according to 2020 Catalist data), if a one point increase in Democratic support among college voters is counter-balanced by a one point shift in support against the Democrats among the working class, the net effect would be to reduce the Democratic margin in the popular vote by half a point. If there were 5 point shifts for and against the Democrats in these two education groups, the Democratic margin would shrink by 2.5 points; if 10 point shifts for and against, the result would be a 5 point shrinkage.

This is the national situation. But the power of the working class vote is just as strong in most swing states. According to AP/VORC VoteCast data (Catalist data not yet available on the state level), the working class/college disproportion is even higher than the national average in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. This is perhaps as one might expect.

But consider a state like Arizona. We are used to thinking of it in terms of its increasing race-ethnic diversity, which is helping drive political change in the state. But that trend obscures another fact: it’s still a heavily working class state, significantly above the national average. That means that shifts among working class voters in Arizona are potentially even more powerful than those described for the nation as a whole.

Democrats have hitherto not worried much about the possible impact of overall working class shifts. That’s because the nonwhite working class vote functioned, in effect, as the Democrats’ firewall. If the nonwhite working class vote remained stable, that assured the nonwhite vote as a whole would remain mostly stable, given that nonwhite voters are so heavily working class. This in turn would allow Democrats to keep reaping demographic dividends from a reliable trend of increasing vote share for nonwhites.

This was always a questionable strategy, since the rapidly decreasing support for Democrats among white working class voters has been enough in many places and elections to negate the pro-Democratic effect of rising diversity. But it is much more untenable now, since the nonwhite working class vote can no longer be considered a firewall for the Democrats. Since 2012, running against Trump twice, Democrats have lost 18 margin points (two party vote) off of their support among nonwhite working class voters. Available data indicate that there was a particularly large shift against the Democrats among Hispanic working class voters in the 2020 election. These trends suggest Democrats need to start thinking about how the working class as a whole may shift, not just their familiar problem with whites.

In doing so, they need to recognize the power of the working class vote and the fundamentally disadvantageous tradeoff for Democrats that is implicit in current educational polarization. They will not always be able to count on exceptionally large shifts among college voters, particularly white college voters, as they had in 2020 to overcome other, negative shifts. It is time for Democrats to get their heads out of the sand on their emerging working class problem.

Joe Biden in 2020 characterized Donald Trump as, among other things, an unapologetic racist who particularly detested immigrants. This strand of Biden’s campaign was supposed to have special appeal to Hispanics and juice their Democratic support.

But that didn’t happen. Instead Hispanic voters went in the other direction, giving Trump after four years substantially more support than they did in 2016. According to Catalist, in 2020 Latinos had an amazingly large 16 point margin shift toward Trump. Among Latinos, Cubans did have the largest shifts toward Trump (26 points), but those of Mexican origin also had a 12 point shift and even Puerto Ricans moved toward Trump by 18 points. Moreover, Latino shifts toward Trump were widely dispersed geographically. Hispanic shifts toward Trump were not confined to Florida (28 points) and Texas (18 points) but also included states like Nevada (16 points), Pennsylvania (12 points), Arizona (10 points) and Georgia (8 points).

The national Pew 2020 validated voter data were consistent with Catalist national data on the size of the shift toward Trump, as revealed by Pew’s recent report on these data. Now Pew has released the microdata from their survey allowing researchers to dig into their data to get more detail on Hispanics and other groups. Here are some of the things I found from looking at the Hispanic validated voter data.

1. Trump’s support was higher among Hispanic working class (noncollege) voters than among the college-educated. Biden carried Hispanic college voters by a whopping 39 points (69-30) compared to just 14 points (55-41) among the Hispanic working class.

2. Hispanic Trump voters were 81 percent working class and just 19 percent college-educated.

3. Within the working class, the less education Hispanic voters had, the more they supported Trump. Those with some college gave Trump 39 percent of their vote, high school graduates gave him 42 percent and high school dropouts gave him 53 percent.

4. Pew breaks income into three broad groups: lower income, middle income and upper income. Trump’s worst group by far here was upper income Hispanics where he received just 28 percent of the vote. But he got 41 percent support among middle income Hispanics and 40 percent support among lower income Hispanics.

5. Just under a third of Hispanic voters described themselves as conservative. These voters supported Trump by a lopsided 73-26.

6. Over half of Hispanic voters (53 percent) were very or somewhat confident in Trump’s ability to make good decisions about economic policy. Those who were very confident supported Trump 77-18; those who were somewhat confident supported him 56-40.

7. Trump support was highest among young Hispanic voters. Those under 30 gave him 41 percent support, those in the 30-49 year old age group gave him 38 percent; those 50-64 gave him 37 percent and those 65 and over the least at 35 percent.

What lies behind these unsatisfying results for the Democrats? One possibility, as I have previously argued, is that Democrats fundamentally misunderstood the nature of this voter group and what they really care about. Hispanics were lumped in with “people of color” and were assumed to embrace the activism around racial issues that dominated so much of the political scene in 2020, particularly in the summer. This was a flawed assumption. The reality of the Hispanic population is that they are, broadly speaking, an overwhelmingly working class, economically progressive, socially moderate constituency that cares above all, about jobs, the economy and health care.

For example, in the post-election wave of the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group (VSG) panel survey, well over 70 percent of Hispanic voters rated jobs, the economy, health care and the coronavirus as issues that were “very important” to them. No other issues even came close to this level. Crime as an issue rated higher with these voters than immigration or racial equality, two issues that Democrats assumed would clear the path to big gains among Hispanic voters.

In this context, it is interesting to note that the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement did not rate very highly among Hispanics. In the national exit poll, Hispanic voters were split close to evenly about BLM, 47 percent unfavorable to 49 percent favorable. This significantly trails not just black voters, but also white college graduates, who rated BLM 61 percent favorable to 35 percent unfavorable.

Consistent with this, Latino voters evinced little sympathy with the policy ideas that came to be associated with BLM. In VSG data, despite showing support for some specific policing reforms, Hispanics opposed defunding the police, decreasing the size of police forces and the scope of their work and reparations for the descendants of slaves by 2:1 or more.

An important thing to remember about the Hispanic population is that they are heavily oriented toward upward mobility and see themselves as being able to benefit from available opportunities to attain that. Three-fifths of Latinos in the national exit poll said they believed life would be better for the next generation of Americans. In the VSG data, these voters agreed, by 9 points, that racial minorities have mostly fair opportunities to advance in America, by 11 points agreed that America is a fair society where everyone has a chance to get ahead and by 20 points agreed that “Irish, Italian, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors.”

They are also patriotic. By well over 3:1, Hispanics in the VSG survey said they would rather be a citizen of the United States than any other country in the world and by 35 points said they were proud of the way American democracy works. Clearly, this constituency does not harbor particularly radical views on the nature of American society and its supposed intrinsic racism and white supremacy.

It is probable that Democrats will continue to have problems with this voter group until they base their appeals to this group on what these voters care about the most rather than what Democrats believe they should care about.