It’s become an article of faith among some conservative and even neutral commentators: If Obama and Dems embrace Occupy Wall Street, they risk driving away droves of blue collar white voters in swing states who are crucial to Obama’s reelection. The argument: These voters tend to be culturally alienated by the theatrics of such protests, just as they were in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and won’t think Occupy Wall Street’s brand of populism is in their own interests — so Obama and Dems align themselves with the movement at their extreme peril.
But I’ve obtained some new polling that seriously complicates this argument: In two new national polls, the cross tabs show that majorities of blue collar whites do, in fact, back the protests.
The new data comes from today’s United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection poll, and Time magazine’s poll from late last week, both of which found that majorities agree with the protesters or view them favorably. I asked both organizations for the breakdown on this question among non-college-educated whites, which is seen by polling experts as a reasonably good category for judging blue collar white sentiment. Both graciously supplied the answers:
* In the National Journal poll, 56 percent of non-college-educated whites agree with the protesters; only 31 percent disagree.
* In the Time poll, 54 percent of non-college-educated men, and 48 percent of non-college educated women, view the protests favorably. (That’s roughly 51 percent overall.) Meanwhile,only 29 percent of non-college-educated men, and only 19 percent of non-college-educated women, disagree. (That’s roughly 23 percent.)
The sample sizes were reasonable, too: In the National Journal poll, 384 non-college-educated respondents were polled; in the Time poll, 379 were surveyed.
I understand the objections to reading too much into this kind of polling. These may be low information voters. They may be reacting to the target of the protests more than registering agreement with the protesters themselves. Occupy Wall Street doesn’t have a specific agenda, which makes it easier for people to back it, and things could change once it starts making specific demands. But all that said, the evidence right now is tilting towards the idea that the protesters’ message may be resonating among voters who are supposedly certain to be alienated by the protests.
By the way, this doesn’t necessarily help Obama. As Alex Altman noted in his excellent write-up of the Time poll’s overall numbers, Obama’s approval rating among these voters is an abysmal 26 percent. But this polling suggests that embracing the protests is not part of the problem — quite the opposite, in fact.
Conservatives predicting that the protests will drive away blue collar whites are trying to exploit a traditional cultural faultline that has been a feature of our politics for decades — the one between working class whites and liberal activists who resort to outsized protest tactics. But if anything, white working class voters may be looking past the theatrics and responding to Occupy Wall Street’s actual message. It’s very early days, and anything can happen to the movement, but this raises at least the possibility that labor organizers can begin to make some headway in tying it to a broader working class constituency.
UPDATE: I got the numbers in the National Journal poll slightly wrong; blue collar whites are even more supportive of OWS than I originally wrote: The numbers are 56-31.