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The Truth About the White Working Class: Why It's Allergic to Voting for Democrats

Sean McElwee

What’s up with working-class whites? It’s a question that’s been asked for decades, and has been raised again recently in the discussion surrounding an Alec MacGillis piece examining Matt Bevin’s recent election gubernatorial win in Kentucky, which could leave many in Kentucky without Medicaid. Though there are many explanations for why working class whites vote Republican and many are certainly true, the overwhelming reason is rather simple: racism.

To see why working class whites — defined as non-Hispanic whites without a college degree, although there are extensive debates as to the best way to define “working class” — aren’t voting Democratic, I use the American National Election Studies 2012 survey. To begin, I examined raw vote shares among working class whites, and then vote shares among working class whites in the South (the former 11 states of the Confederacy) and non-South. Immediately, it is obvious that a key divide is the South/non-South distinction: only 28 percent of Southern working class whites identify as Democratic, compared with 40 percent of non-South working class whites.[...]