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The Forgotten Majority
Political Junkie

By Richard Morin
Washington Post Polling Director
Monday, May 29, 2000

Forget about chasing after those yuppified soccer moms this election year. Candidates would be better off courting waitress moms and their husbands, the auto mechanic dads.

Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, and Joel Rogers, a University of Wisconsin professor of law, political science and sociology, say it's working-class whites who will really matter in this year's presidential election.

In particular, white guys without college degrees love to swing—politically, that is, they claim in their new book, "America's Forgotten Majority: Why the White Working Class Still Matters."

Teixeira and Rogers looked at the percentage of white men and women who voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in presidential elections since 1960. This group is America's "forgotten majority" because they have been largely ignored by the major parties even though they constitute about 55 percent of the electorate, these analysts argue.

The percentage of whites who voted Democratic in presidential elections swung from 53.1 percent in 1960-64 to 39.7 in 1992-96, according to their analysis of University of Michigan National Election Studies data. In contrast, blacks have hardly budged: Since 1960, about nine in 10 blacks have voted Democratic, making them one of the Democrats' most loyal (and perhaps easiest-to-ignore) constituencies.

The underlying message of those numbers is clear, Teixeira and Rogers claim. The overall drop in Democratic support over the past four decades has occurred mainly—and virtually exclusively—among white voters.

The biggest swings occurred among whites without four-year college degrees—they call this group "working class whites." White men, in particular, have abandoned the Democrats in recent elections. According to these analysts, the Democratic share of working-class white guys veered from a high of 56.7 percent in the early 1960s to 36.1 percent in the 1990s. Democratic support among working-class white women also fell, but not as much: 53.6 percent to to 44.5.

At the same time, white men and women with four-year college degrees shifted only imperceptibly. Overall, the percentage of white college grads who voted Democratic was 39.1 percent in 1960-64 and 38.1 percent in the 1992-96 election cycles.

Just beneath these overall results, the gender breakdowns tell a somewhat more interesting story. Among men who graduated from college, the number who voted Democratic fell by nearly five points since 1960 to an anemic 31.8 percent in 1992-96. During the same period, the number increased by more than four points to 46.1 points among similarly educated women.

Teixeira and Rogers' definition of working- class whites includes those who have gone to college but didn't obtain a college degree. It also includes those with a junior college degree who didn't go on to finish at a four-year school. As it happens, Americans who have some college are little different than high school grads, in terms of their overall income or situation in life. They are very different than college grads and pose a real problem for Democrats, who between 1992 and 1994 saw their share drop by about 11 points among voters with some college, the authors say.

"Another great weakness of the Democrats with respect to the new white working class has been a failure to increase their support among a burgeoning voter group—those with some college—where they have never been strong," they write.

Summer Spending

More than a third of all Americans say they're going to spend more on their vacations this summer than they did last year, according to a new ABC News survey.

Thirty-six percent say they'll spend more on their 2000 summer vacation, about where it's been the past two years during a period of soaring consumer confidence. That compares with an average of 28 percent in the first half of the 1990s, when confidence was badly blunted by recession, reports Gary Langer, ABC's director of polling. Langer also noted that 34 percent plan to spend less on their holiday, but that's well down from an average of 45 percent from 1991 to 1995. Eleven percent plan to spend the same amount as last year and 17 percent say they won't take a summer break, both about average.

Helping Hand

Eight in 10 Americans say they favor the government paying for education and job training for people leaving welfare even if it means an increase in government spending, according to a new survey by political pollster Celinda Lake for Jobs for the Future. Three in four say they support tax cuts for people who work but do not earn enough to keep their families out of poverty, even if that means the government will have to spend more.

And six in 10 support tax cuts for businesses that hire people leaving welfare, even if it leads to an increase in government spending.

Richard Morin is director of polling for The Washington Post. "What Americans Think" appears Mondays in The Washington Post National Weekly Edition. Morin can be reached at morinr@clark.net .


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company


 
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