Presidential Candidates and Voter Demographics

 

The demographic data is more important for this election than ever before, partly because of all the shifting demographics and hence ideological confusion. The mainstream media struggles in trying to fit the demographic data into some mainstream narrative or another that they’ve been repeating for decades. There is a fair amount of complexity in the data. Nothing breaks down along a single divide.

This is particularly true of the data on socioeconomic class. Most of the data is about income, and I haven’t seen any wealth data which is a major blind spot. Income alone doesn’t tell how well someone is doing economically, specifically in terms of savings vs debt. It also doesn’t show other data such as unemployment/underemployment, multiple job households, hours worked, wage/salary, pensions and other benefits, costs of living, buying power of the dollar, etc. Income alone doesn’t say how well or badly most people are doing.

Anyway, it’s hard to know the full support for some candidates and exactly where that support might come from, as many people don’t know they agree with a candidate until they’ve learned about the candidate. Sanders, for example, attracts the most Independents who have been the most excluded. The poorest are the least likely to be involved in primaries, the least likely to vote in elections, and probably the least likely to get represented in polling data. The minority and youth demographics have higher rates of economic problems and also are typically less politically engaged. But even if these demographics vote at higher than normal rates, it’s still unlikely that they’d vote for someone like Clinton.

Many typical non-voters might vote this year, depending on who is nominated. This could make things unpredictable. A hypothetical Clinton win would be more dependent on who didn’t vote than who did. The same is likely true for Trump as well. Sanders is the only candidate with a chance of winning the majority, instead of winning by default of making the majority lose all hope in democracy.

This is more than relevant at times like these. Most Americans no longer vote in most elections or even bother to register. When asked about their affiliation, most Americans claim Independent which is just to say they claim no affiliation with anything. For many, this means they feel no affiliation with the entire corrupt system and fake democracy. Whether or not they think in these terms, a larger and growing number of Americans perceive our country as a banana republic—a majority already sees the presidential nominating system as rigged and that the rich buy elections.

This is why protest votes shouldn’t be ignored. We are at a point where there is almost nothing left other than protest votes. Both major presumptive nominees, Trump and Clinton, are the most disliked and mistrusted candidates ever recorded in US campaign history (since data began to be kept in the 1980s). There is little hope left in the system and in the candidates it offers as choices, an endless lose-lose scenario between one evil and another.

Sanders supporters definitely shouldn’t be ignored, as he is the only popular candidate that the majority trusts. He represents the last remnants of faith in democracy. Once he is gone, there is nothing left but cynicism and realpolitik. But I wouldn’t dismiss out of hand any of the other voters and potential voters, no matter who they support.

Even minority, specifically older minority, supporters of Clinton are all too aware that the entirety of democracy is a sham and they are simply trying to hold back the worst evils that they and those before them have experienced. They know authoritarianism as a reality, not mere theory. It’s not that they don’t realize that Clinton is a dangerous, corrupt politician. But sometimes you need to hire a mean goon to fight off the other mean goons, or that is the hope, however desperately naive it is. It’s a protection racket and minorities understand all too well how it works.

As for Trump’s support, it is wider than generally assumed. The demographics that support him are about equally found across the lower, middle, and upper classes. Also, his supporters are about average in education as compared to the general population. These aren’t stupid poor whites. All that you can generalize about them is that they are mostly white and mostly conservative. So, they are standard Republican voters. Nothing particularly special. All that makes them stand out is that they are outraged, but even that isn’t a new phenomenon that started with Trump.

It’s not that the Republican demographics have changed recently, besides Republicans being an aging population. Moreso, it’s that the world around those demographics has changed. Even as the economy has grown in recent decades, the average real income for the majority has not just stagnated but decreased. Also, there has been a loss of job security, good benefits, pensions, etc; along with a shrinking middle class and lessening upward mobility.

It would be reasonable to assume that Trump’s supporters have felt these changes in their lives, as have so many other Americans. Many people characterize these people as the white working class, sometimes even portraying them as outright poor and ignorant, but that is inaccurate. They aren’t that unusual. In fact, they were once the heart of the middle class. Their status in society has been downgraded. They have become the new broad working class, the downwardly mobile and the trapped. They are outraged because they’ve lost hope that the world will get better for them and for their children and grandchildren, and they are likely correct in their assessment.

The more economically secure older demographic are those who had union jobs and are retired with generous pensions. Most of these people are with Clinton all the way. They don’t want anything to change because they are set for life. You see a divide in many small towns, such as where my dad grew up: Alexandria, Indiana. There used to be small factories in the town and larger automobile factories in the area, but most of them have shut down. The main income for the town is through the taxing of old factory workers with pensions. The young, however, are impoverished and have no hope for the future. The young generation has been abandoned. And those towns are going to be hurting when the old retired factory workers die and their pensions disappear. The rural young are largely looking to Sanders for obvious reasons.

Class politics has always been a major force in US society and politics. But it hasn’t always been clear, as it often takes different forms. In the past, it has often been divides of race and ethnicity, culture and religion, immigration and citizenship status (including status of free vs enslaved), and much else. Aspects of this are still true to varying degrees. There are also regional divides, along with rural/urban and inner-city/suburban divides.

A more interesting divide is generational. In the early-to-mid twentieth century, there was an aging population that was extremely poor. Many of the progressive and New Deal policies primarily helped the young, from Social Security to the GI Bill. The young did better than the generations before them.

That is different now. The young are doing worse than the generations before them, despite being more well educated and higher IQ. The economy has become much more harsh with higher rates of unemployment and underemployment, decades of stagnating and even dropping wages, low upward mobility with much threat of downward mobility, a shrinking and ever more precarious middle class, a half century of weakening unions with decreasing membership, and loss of job security and good benefits. It is massive crappiness that has been dumped on the  young most of all.

This kind of generational divide is an entirely new dynamic. There exists a wealthier, more financially secure older demographic often with pensions while there is also a poor youth demographic with an uncertain future. Such a demographic situation has never before existed in US history. The future of the young has been sold for the comfort of the old. Not too many generations ago, it was the older generations who were willing to make immense personal sacrifices to ensure their children and grandchildren would do better than they did. This present generation of older Americans, however, are much more selfish and greedy or else simply clueless and ignorant… or, to be generous, maybe they’re apathetic and cynical, just going along to get along.

It is unfair to treat the young now as if nothing has changed across the generations. It’s not just that the young now are temporarily poor. They are facing unemployment rates and decreasing wages that their grandparents’ generation never experienced when they were younger. Sanders supporters aren’t simply biding their time until the money starts rolling in. Employment with job security, good benefits, affordable healthcare, pensions, and high union membership are harder to find these days. This slow economic start will have a severe impact on the lifelong earnings of an entire generation.

Being an older and lower income is not the same as being younger and lower income. Older folks had cheap college and cheap housing. They were able to find good jobs right out of high school or right out of college. Their main earning years was during economic boom times. They were able to save more money and also they had generous pensions. Labor unions have made sure to protect older workers, even as they’ve too often sacrificed young workers.

It’s class conflict, but not of a variety that many in the mainstream understand. No matter how the MSM spins this, it shouldn’t be ignored. Class politics are live and well. It just so happens that at the moment class politics coincides with generational politics, at least to some extent.

This is also a racial divide. The young who support Sanders are the most diverse generation in US history. Sanders has won not just young whites but also young minorities across the board. I haven’t heard of a single minority group in which the majority of the young haven’t turned their hope to Sanders. Among young minorities, a minority-majority is already forming. This creates a different attitude than older minorities who have always known they were outnumbered and so they kept their expectations low.

I’d add that, by speaking of the ‘young’, this includes a large segment of the society. Sanders hasn’t just won the majority of those in their 20s. He has also won the majority of those in their 30s. He probably wins as well those in their low 40s and certainly he breaks about even in the 40+ demographic. This includes a large segment of the workforce and the entirety of young families, including many parents that are reaching the point of sending their own kids off to college. Generalizing all of Sanders’ supporters as young is misleading. Still, the point is that these aren’t old people who began their adulthood during the booming economy and strong welfare state of the mid-20th century.

The national median age is 36 years old. So, Sanders’ supporters are at the demographic center of the national population. In a short period of time, these people will become a great force in society, as the younger generation is larger than even the Boomers.

Older Americans, especially those of lower income, realize they aren’t the future. The young, despite all the problems, are surprisingly optimistic. Also, the young haven’t turned on the old. When asked, the young don’t think they will personally benefit from social security and yet they want to maintain social security benefits. The young aren’t simply saying, screw the old people that effed everything up! There is a generational divide, but that isn’t the main concern. Most people of all ages realize the economy sucks all around, that it isn’t just their group suffering. Still, maybe it is harder for older people to deal with these kinds of drastic changes, as they remember better times.

We forget that a few decades ago, most people thought of as middle class lacked college education. It used to be easy to work one’s way up from an entry level job to more specialized work or even management. This is because on-the-job training and education used to be made widely available. Back in the day, all that it took to be middle class was basic intelligence and motivation. Almost anyone who wanted to work could find work. And almost anyone who wanted to work their way up could do so. Being middle class was simply defined by upward mobility. It was an economic status, a lifestyle, and a social identity. For several generations, it was the defining characteristic of the American Dream.

Trump supporters, being a slightly older demographic, remember what the economy was like a few decades ago. They are old enough to remember a different world, a time of immense opportunity when they were growing up and entering the workforce. Working hard and bettering oneself was a point of self-respect and pride. The loss of that social identity has hit many Americans hard.

Many of these people were taught from a young age that failure isn’t an excuse. It was assumed that an individual was only limited by their own ability, potential, and work ethic. This belief in meritocracy never fully matched reality, but even so it was a belief so many took seriously. This is hard for older Americans to take, as they can’t easily go back to school to start a new career. Besides, who would want to hire these aging workers when there are so many young people who are equally or better qualified? In many cases, there is no place for these older folk and so little hope. Their present state of economic uncertainty or even downward mobility is a point of shame. With shame, comes outrage and scapegoating. People are looking for something or someone to blame for why life has become so hard and hopeless. Yeah, they’d like America to be great again.

Attacking Trump’s supporters isn’t helpful. They didn’t cause these problems. Most of them probably don’t even understand what has happened. They are pissed off and they have good reason. All Americans have good reason to be outraged at this system of corruption and this status quo of failure. Besides the few who feel secure and comfortable, this is an unhappy situation.

This creates endless conflict. At this point, many Americans simply want to be heard and to have their problems acknowledged. They want someone to tell them that they matter. But more than anything, they want change. Real change.

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Inequality Divides, Privilege Disconnects

A Sense of Urgency

Facebook discussion from a post by Corey Robin

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With More Americans Going Far Left (And Right), an Anti-Corporate Agenda Takes Shape
by David Korten

A recently released study by four leading economists of voting in U.S. congressional races uncovered an important pattern. According to a New York Times report on the study, “Areas hardest hit by trade shocks were much more likely to move to the far right or the far left politically.” Job losses, especially to China, the authors noted, lead voters to strongly favor either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders.

One Last Kick at the Liberal Dog
by Joe Bageant

What are the Democrats offering working class folks? Do they dare say: “Your health care is non-existent so we’re gonna fix it by completely socializing all health care, period. Fuck the upper middle class medical racketeers.” Do they stand up and say, “We are going to completely stop the outsourcing of American jobs?” Or that those goddamned fraud elections are over and will never happen again? Are they out there door to door educating the people, connecting the dots for them? Hell no. Instead they field, as one of my readers put it, “…cheerleaders for exactly the kind of global corporate suck down that is leaving the working class shattered and more vulnerable every day. In the wake of the Kerry disaster, who is now the front-runner for 2008? Hillary.”

Holy mother of hip hop Jesus, give me strength! Could they possibly have found a more chilly and unappealing wonk bitch in the eyes of working people? Look, she may have tried to fix health care at one time. But trying ain’t doing. She will get points for it but just because the hack party machinery can get her elected in New York does not mean the rest of the country is going to let her off so easily.

Facts That Challenge the Narrative About Angry Working Class Voters
by Nancy LeTourneau

Bernie Sanders Has Strength Among White Men Pinched By The Economy
by Tamara Keith

Rural West Virginia is anything but Clinton country
by Michael Finnegan

Why Young Latinos in Rural California Support Sanders
by Olivia Rodriguez

In California’s predominantly Spanish-speaking Eastern Coachella Valley, younger Latinos are responding to presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, challenging the narrative that his appeal does not extend beyond white voters. “A lot of youth in the Eastern Coachella Valley see college as not affordable, a shattered dream. Because of his emphasis on college affordability, Sanders can be that spark for us to regain confidence and make a bigger difference.”

Sanders Wins Idaho, Sweeping Rural Crotchety, Gun-owning Men Who Admire Denmark’s Economic Policy
by Cafe

Sanders steamrolled Clinton in Idaho, dominating the key demographic of rural, white, crotchety, gun-owning males who admire Denmark’s policies on maternity leave. Sanders also won Utah, whose Mormon voters made clear his Jewish faith was not a problem, since he can easily be baptized after he’s dead.

Clinton’s weakness against Trump? Appalachian and rural voters
by Anthony Hennen

Clinton has done well among African-American voters, but her margins have fallen dramatic in Appalachia compared to 2008.

“That mountainous stretch handed Clinton some of her most staggering reversals: In Ohio’s Galia [sic] County, along the West Virginia border, Clinton’s share of the vote fell by 30 percentage points; by 33 in North Carolina’s Graham County, abutting Tennessee,” Bloomberg noted.

Many of her county wins in Appalachia Ohio were narrow over Bernie Sanders, her biggest win coming in Mahoning County, where Youngstown is located, with 59 percent of the vote. In a general election against Donald Trump, she’ll struggle to win all but a handful of Appalachian counties if voting patterns don’t shift.

Nor is her problem relegated to Appalachia. She struggles among white voters in rural areas in general. When Bloomberg examined rural county vote results compared with the 2008 Democratic primary, Clinton saw her vote share fall by more than 20 percent in more than two dozen counties across rural Ohio, North Carolina, and Missouri.

In Rural Iowa, Some Voters Call Themselves ‘Socialist,’ Support Sanders
by William Gallo

But is Iowa really full of left-wing voters who see themselves as democratic socialists? Some evidence to support such a claim is found in a Des Moines Register poll this month, in which 43 percent of Democrats who plan to participate in Monday’s Iowa caucuses identified themselves as “socialist.” That’s more than the 38 percent of respondents who called themselves “capitalist.”

The poll may help explain why the fiercely liberal Sanders is popular across Iowa, despite the state’s reputation for having traditional, conservative Midwestern values. […]

If the success of the Sanders campaign does mean left-wing politics are becoming more mainstream, then that wave could start in Iowa, with voters like Bob Mortensen, the Elk Horn resident, who is caucusing for Sanders on Monday night.

Would he have have told the Register pollster that he identifies as a socialist?

“Yeah, I suppose I would, because I understand what the true meaning of that label is,” he said. “I am a Christian. I am a socialist. And part of the reason I am a socialist, by the true definition of that word, is because I am a Christian.”

Important Wins for Trump — and a Surprising Loss for Clinton
by Perry Bacon Jr.

And in the rest of Michigan, particularly its more rural areas, Sanders carried more than 60 percent of the vote in many counties.

Rural Vote, Which Clinton Won In 2008, Cinches Victory For Sanders In Mich.
by Bill Bishop and Tim Marema

Hillary Clinton lost to Senator Bernie Sanders in Michigan’s small towns and rural counties and as a result lost the state to her Vermont opponent in Tuesday’s Democratic primary election.

Clinton was expected to win Michigan easily, and she did roll up a nearly 11,000 vote advantage in the state’s urban areas. But Sanders beat Clinton by 22,000 votes in the state’s small cities (those between 10,000 and 50,000 people), and he won by nearly 8,000 votes in Michigan’s rural counties. Sanders won Michigan — a state all the polls said he would lose — by just over 19,000 votes. […]

The most surprising result of Tuesday’s primaries was Sanders’ win in Michigan. For Clinton, the results were a dramatic switch from 2008. In the primary eight years ago, Clinton’s share of the rural and small town vote was 10 percentage points higher than her vote in the cities. This year, Clinton’s share of the vote dropped by 8 points as the vote moved from the cities to the countryside.

In 2008, Clinton was in a close contest with then Senator Barack Obama and, for a time, North Carolina Senator John Edwards. Early in the primary season, a pattern developed in the vote: Obama would win the cities, but as the vote moved outside the major metropolitan areas, Clinton would gain.

The Clinton campaign in 2008 took note and began concentrating on rural areas and small towns. In 2008, Clinton was the choice of rural and white working class voters. […]

In Michigan, Sanders narrowed the gap with Clinton among African-American voters — he won 30 percent of the African-American vote in Michigan — and then rolled up large majorities in rural areas.

The Clintons Have Lost the Working Class
by Benjamin Wallace-Wells

Why can’t Hillary Clinton’s campaign get going? By most conventional measures, she had a pretty good week in New Hampshire: a commanding performance in Thursday night’s debate, an emotive one in Wednesday night’s televised town hall. But the scale of her loss to Bernie Sanders was striking, and its shape was revealing. Clinton lost among young voters by nearly 6–1, and among independents by 3–1. Most arrestingly, Sanders won voters with an income of less than fifty thousand dollars by 2–1. There’s a lot of talk about Clinton’s campaign repeating the chaos and errors of 2008, but that year she had the white working-class vote. Clinton’s candidacy looks narrower than ever, more confined to those whose experience of life approximates her own. Last night, in New Hampshire, the rare demographic group she won was those with incomes of more than two hundred thousand dollars a year. For now, at least, Clinton has become the wine-track candidate.

A dying breed: middle class Americans drive success for Trump
by Martin Barillas

In contrast, in 1999, the average middle class income was $77,898. In 2014 it was $72,919, a difference of $4,979. It was in the key battleground states where both Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders have done well, such as Indiana, Michigan, and West Virginia, where the biggest drop in middle class occurred.

Sanders, Trump and the US working class
by Megan Trudell

For example, the contrast between the top down Clinton campaign and Sanders’s grassroots organisation is striking. One important indicator of this is the way that union members have voted. Despite having the endorsement of only a handful of national unions compared with Clinton, “In a stark illustration of his argument that revolutionary political change can only come from below, a growing number of local union chapters are choosing to ignore their national leadership and back Sanders on the ground instead”.7

In every major union that has let its members decide on who the union endorses, Sanders has won. In every union where the leadership has decided, the endorsement has gone to Clinton. This speaks volumes about the divide between the Democratic elite and the party’s supporters.

First Corbyn, now Sanders: how young voters’ despair is fuelling movements on the left
by Owen Jones

Yet it is surely economic insecurity that drives today’s young radicalism. A poll last year found that nearly half of so-called “millennial” Americans – those aged 18 to 35 – believed that they faced a “dimmer future than their parents”. Forty million Americans are now saddled with student debt, helping to suppress their living standards and leaving them with less disposable income for, say, a mortgage or a car. Home ownership across the Atlantic – the linchpin of the “American dream” – is now at its lowest level for nearly half a century. The economic recovery is an abstraction for many young Americans, all too often driven into insecure and low-paid occupations with little prospect of rising wages or a standard of living they believe they deserve.

What Bernie Supporters Want
by Shawn Gude & Matt Karp

Of course, when coupled with the social-democratic remedies Sanders pushes, this is just old-fashioned class politics — the idiom of any viable left project. […]

74 percent of Sanders supporters (compared to 56 percent of Clinton supporters) reported that “the difference in incomes between rich people and poor people” has grown “much larger” in the last twenty years. Sanders supporters placed income inequality among their most important political issues twice as often as Clinton supporters. […]

But if abstract policy preferences aren’t so important after all, perhaps we should take another look at those inequality numbers. What if they actually show the growth of a deeper allegiance — a compound of social identity and symbolic attachment that we might even dare call “class consciousness”?

Burying the White Working Class
by Connor Kilpatrick

Here in the middle of all this were the voters of West Virginia — one of the poorest and whitest states in the country, a place that repeatedly elected a former Klansman to the Senate — asserting their material interests. In the ongoing Clinton coronation, they were about as welcome as a case of black lung.

But it isn’t just the Sanders campaign zombie that liberal pundits are desperately trying to stamp out. It’s the white working class itself.

With Clinton’s nomination a lock, liberals have become even more furious and dismissive of white workers. Commenting on Sanders’s West Virginia victory, they were quick to point out that a felon running against Obama in the same state in 2012 got nearly half as many votes. They crowed about how some of both Bernie and Clinton’s voters said Trump was their real number one choice, and much was made of how Sanders overwhelmingly won voters who want “less liberal” policies than Obama’s.

Conveniently lost in the noise is the fact that Sanders won an even bigger share of voters who want “more liberal” ones.

The media takeaway was clear: somehow, someway, West Virginia’s vote for a Jewish socialist Brooklyn native was a vote for racism. “I don’t want to say it,” said Chris Matthews on election night “but West Virginian voters are, you know — conservative on social issues — but there’s another word for that. . .”

The Bernie Coalition
by Matt Karp

The young liberals who flocked to Obama in 2008, in other words, were economically both comfortable and confident. All signs so far suggest that Bernie Sanders’s Iowa and New Hampshire youth revolt is of a very different character. […]

Why does this matter? One striking difference between Sanders and Obama, as Jedediah Purdy has noted, is that the Sanders campaign is about the platform, not the candidate. Another striking difference is that Sanders has forged connections to lower-income New Hampshire and Iowa Democrats that eluded Obama and every other progressive primary challenger in recent history.

Sanders has done it by offering a substantial rather than rhetorical “progressive” vision. His call to break up the big banks, install a $15 minimum wage, and provide single-payer health care for all — however mild as “democratic socialism” goes — represents an aggressive economic populism exiled from the national Democratic Party for decades. Certainly Sanders’s program far exceeds the universally timid and deficit-focused reforms on offer from Bradley, Dean, and Obama.

Sanders may well have won intense backing from the professional and technical workers that John Judis described at a campaign rally last fall, and that Michael Harrington long hoped might embrace democratic socialism. But the polls suggest that Sanders’s program has also proven immensely appealing to a younger but less affluent and more traditional Democratic white working class: not just hybrid owners, but truck drivers, too.

Bernie Sanders Is Making Surprising Gains With Less Affluent Whites
Nate Cohn

In a compilation of New York Times/CBS News surveys since November, Mr. Sanders leads Mrs. Clinton, 47 percent to 39 percent, among white voters who make less than $50,000. If anything, these figures may understate Mr. Sanders’s strength; he has gained in state, national and New York Times/CBS News surveys over the period.

In the 2008 Democratic primaries, Mr. Obama lost white voters making less than $50,000 by a wide margin to Mrs. Clinton (60 to 33 percent), according to exit poll data. A similar story holds for white voters without a college degree.

Other national surveys consistently show Mrs. Clinton faring no better among less affluent voters than more affluent voters — a telling sign of Mr. Sanders’s strength among less affluent white voters, given his well-established weakness among nonwhite voters, who represent a disproportionate share of less affluent Democrats.

The same appears to be true in the early states.

In Iowa, polls suggest a tight race among less affluent whites, ranging from a Quinnipiac survey showing Mr. Sanders ahead by 21 points among voters making less than $50,000 to an NBC/Marist poll that gave Mrs. Clinton a narrow lead of 52 to 45. CNN and Fox News data suggested a modest Sanders edge.

In New Hampshire, Mr. Sanders leads among voters making less than $50,000 in every recent poll — and usually by a lot. That margin in the most recent NBC/Marist result is 68 to 30. Back in 2008, Mrs. Clinton defeated Mr. Obama by 15 percentage points among voters making less than $50,000 a year, according to the exit polls.

But on the flip side in the early states, Mr. Sanders seems to fare worse than Mrs. Clinton among more affluent white voters — who tend to turn out in far greater numbers than lower-income whites. Fewer surveys offer results for voters making over $100,000 a year — but those that do suggest surprising strength for Mrs. Clinton.

The Quinnipiac survey showed Mrs. Clinton leading Mr. Sanders, 58-37, among voters making more than $100,000 in Iowa — a group that gave her a paltry 19 percent of the vote in 2008. Similarly, a recent Boston Herald poll in New Hampshire that showed Mrs. Clinton down by 16 points over all nonetheless gave her a 13-point edge among voters making more than $100,000.

What Pundits Keep Getting Wrong About Donald Trump and the Working Class
by Jamelle Bouie

Tally the numbers and you’ll find that Trump’s appeal falls well outside the large plurality (if not majority) of working-class Americans who are either people of color (young or otherwise), or liberal to moderate whites. And you see this in polls of Trump’s favorability. In terms of popularity with blacks, Hispanics, women, and young people, the real estate mogul’s polling is somewhere in the Marianas Trench.

The truth is that it’s inaccurate to talk about Trump’s “working-class appeal.” What Trump has, instead, is a message tailored to a conservative portion of white workers. These voters aren’t the struggling whites of Appalachia or the old Rust Belt, in part because those workers don’t vote, and there’s no evidence Trump has turned them out. Instead, Trump is winning those whites with middle-class incomes. Given his strength in unionized areas like the Northeast, some are blue collar and culturally working class. But many others are not. Many others are what we would simply call Republicans.

The easiest way to guess if someone supports Trump? Ask if Obama is a Muslim.
by Philip Klinkner

You can ask just one simple question to find out whether someone likes Donald Trump more than Hillary Clinton: Is Barack Obama a Muslim? If they are white and the answer is yes, 89 percent of the time that person will have a higher opinion of Trump than Clinton.

That’s more accurate than asking people if it’s harder to move up the income ladder than it was for their parents (54 percent), whether they oppose trade deals (66 percent), or if they think the economy is worse now than last year (81 percent). It’s even more accurate than asking them if they are Republican (87 percent).

Those results come from the 2016 American National Election Study (ANES) pilot survey. My analysis indicates that economic status and attitudes do little to explain support for Donald Trump.

These results might be rather surprising since most political commentators have sought to root Trump’s appeal in the economic anxieties of working-class whites.

Death predicts whether people vote for Donald Trump
by Jeff Guo

It seems that Donald Trump performed the best in places where middle-aged whites are dying the fastest. […] In every state except Massachusetts, the counties with high rates of white mortality were the same counties that turned out to vote for Trump.

We’re focusing on middle-aged whites because the data show that something has gone terribly wrong with their lives. In a study last year, economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton pointed out that mortality rates for this group have actually been increasing since the ’90s.

That fact becomes more alarming when you look at the context. Over the past decade, Hispanic people have been dying at a slower rate; black people have been dying at a slower rate; white people in other countries have been dying at a slower rate. […]

Economic struggles have likely contributed as well. Case and Deaton also found that the increase in the death rate has been driven by people with less education. For those without a college degree, the economy in recent decades has been increasingly miserable. This may explain why some have turned to self-destructive behaviors, such as drug and alcohol abuse.

The people I’ve been describing — this distressed, dying demographic slice of America — are similar to the people who tend to vote for Trump, according to phone and exit polls. Trump supporters are mostly white; skew older; and are less likely to have college degrees than other Republicans. […]

It’s true that life was once better in many parts of America. In the late ’90s, not only was the death rate for middle-aged whites lower, but median wages for non-college workers were higher. Since then, globalization sucked away many more manufacturing jobs, and the Great Recession gave an extra kick to places that were already in decline.

Misrepresenting the White Working Class: What the Narrating Class Gets Wrong
by Jack Metzgar

Rather, for the most part class-prejudiced assumptions are based on professional middle-class ignorance and misunderstanding.

Take the assumed popularity of Trump among the white working class, for example. There appears to be supporting evidence for that. According to Brookings, for example, in a national survey 55% of “Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who support Trump are white working-class Americans.” But this does not mean what Brookings thinks it means. Among all adult whites, nearly 70% do not have bachelor’s degrees (the definition of “working class” used here). This means that at 55%, the white working-class is under-represented among Trump supporters. Conversely, unless Trump is getting much more minority support than reported, his supporters are disproportionally college-educated whites. They make up 30% of the white population, but they are at least 40% of Trump voters in the Brookings survey.

There are two reasons for this kind of error, this one by a highly respected D.C. think tank. One is simple ignorance of class demographics. The bachelor’s/no bachelor’s binary is widely used to separate whites into two broad classes, but many analysts and reporters have no idea of the relative sizes of these two groups in the overall population. They routinely assume that most white people must be college-educated professionals like themselves and the people among whom they live and work.

The other reason for this kind of error is based solely on the assumption that white people who have graduated from college are less racist, less anti-immigrant, less anti-feminist, less homophobic, and generally more tolerant of diversity than people who have not. As a college professor, I very much hope this assumption is valid, but I could find no solid evidence that it is. At least in political commentary, the question is never asked, and you have to wonder why not.

The desperate middle-class voters who made Trump the GOP nominee
by Mark Gimein

Polls have shown that Trump does better with lower earning, less educated voters. And indeed, Trump’s backers are less well off than, say, those who voted for John Kasich. But as Silver shows, less well off than other Republican primary voters is still fairly well off. With some careful statistical work, Silver shows that the family income of the typical Trump voter is $72,000.

That’s not wealthy, but it’s clearly a middle-class income, especially in the parts of the country where Trump gathers his most devoted support. The voters who made Trump happen aren’t, by and large, those who have been chewed up and spit out by the death of factory jobs. They are people who thought they’d met the requirements for success in the contemporary economy, and still find themselves losing ground. […]

For much of the primary season, Trump was dismissed as the candidate of the deeply disaffected and uneducated. As the campaign season went on, that became less and less supportable. In many states from Super Tuesday onwards, Trump won handily among GOP voters with college degrees. Blue collar workers may have made up Trump’s most devoted supporters, but it took a lot of $70,000-a-year professionals to get him to Cleveland.

There’s one thing that the conventional wisdom on Trump got right: Trump’s appeal is certainly strongest for those who feel like their expectations have been disappointed, their hopes circumscribed, and their financial state made precarious—people who feel shame that they don’t have the money to retire or to support their families. The hard part to get your head around is how much of the middle class that turns out to be.

The Mythology Of Trump’s ‘Working Class’ Support
by Nate Silver

Trump voters’ median income exceeded the overall statewide median in all 23 states, sometimes narrowly (as in New Hampshire or Missouri) but sometimes substantially. In Florida, for instance, the median household income for Trump voters was about $70,000, compared with $48,000 for the state as a whole. The differences are usually larger in states with substantial non-white populations, as black and Hispanic voters are overwhelmingly Democratic and tend to have lower incomes. […]

Many of the differences reflect that Republican voters are wealthier overall than Democratic ones, and also that wealthier Americans are more likely to turn out to vote, especially in the primaries. However, while Republican turnout has considerably increased overall from four years ago, there’s no sign of a particularly heavy turnout among “working-class” or lower-income Republicans. On average in states where exit polls were conducted both this year and in the Republican campaign four years ago, 29 percent of GOP voters have had household incomes below $50,000 this year, compared with 31 percent in 2012. […]

Both Democratic candidates do better than the Republicans in this category, however. Only 12 percent of Trump voters have incomes below $30,000; when you also consider that Clinton has more votes than Trump overall, that means about twice as many low-income voters have cast a ballot for Clinton than for Trump so far this year.

Class in America is a complicated concept, and it may be that Trump supporters see themselves as having been left behind in other respects. Since almost all of Trump’s voters so far in the primaries have been non-Hispanic whites, we can ask whether they make lower incomes than other white Americans, for instance. The answer is “no.” The median household income for non-Hispanic whites is about $62,000,4 still a fair bit lower than the $72,000 median for Trump voters.

Likewise, although about 44 percent of Trump supporters have college degrees, according to exit polls — lower than the 50 percent for Cruz supporters or 64 percent for Kasich supporters — that’s still higher than the 33 percent of non-Hispanic white adults, or the 29 percent of American adults overall, who have at least a bachelor’s degree.

This is not to say that Trump voters are happy about the condition of the economy. Substantial majorities of Republicans in every state so far have said they’re “very worried” about the condition of the U.S. economy, according to exit polls, and these voters have been more likely to vote for Trump. But that anxiety doesn’t necessarily reflect their personal economic circumstances, which for many Trump voters, at least in a relative sense, are reasonably good.

Bernie Sanders, not Donald Trump, is winning over the ‘white working class’
by Charles Davis

Writing for In These Times, author Jack Metzgar notes that the basis for this assumed white working-class support for Trump is his popularity among Republican voters who lack a college degree, who have indeed preferred him to the other Republicans in the race. “Among all adult whites,” however, “nearly 70 percent do not have bachelor’s degrees,” the definition of working class used by pundits. One recent survey found that 55 percent of this group support Trump, meaning “the white working-class is under-represented among Trump supporters,” Metzgar observes, which means “his supporters are disproportionately college-educated whites.”

This becomes clear when one takes a step back from the tiny weird world of the U.S. right and looks at the electorate as a whole. In a general election, polls Sanders would not only beat Trump but destroy him: Reuters currently has him up by nearly 10 per cent overall, and that with far less media coverage. Among white voters in particular, Sanders’ margin of victory in the most recent poll does drop to just under 5 per cent — but among white voters who make less than US$25,000 a year, his margin of victory actually grows to 15 per cent. Among unemployed white voters, that number rises to 16 per cent. Practically no one who isn’t white is voting for Donald Trump.

Commentators are right, then, to believe the Trump phenomenon is a white people problem — it’s just the data shows it’s not working-class whites who are the heart of this problem.

Donald Trump is rising because the US middle class has crashed
by Matt Phillips

Trump supporters—who pushed him to victory in key Republican nominating contests in Mississippi and Michigan on Tuesday—are disproportionately older whites without college diplomas.

Today, these folks are usually referred to as “working-class.” But at the heart of Trump’s appeal is the uncomfortable fact that they used to be something else. These people used to be America’s middle class. […]

Basically, this confirms what many people know from experience: These types of households are clinging to middle class status by a thread. […]

Income inequality began to grow again in the early 1980s, and has since returned to the relatively high levels seen in the years before the Great Depression.

Why? Well, for many reasons. But the key is wages.

Incomes at the upper echelons of the American earnings distribution have surged in recent years, while incomes for the vast majority have stagnated. Data from US economist Robert Gordon’s recent book The Rise and Fall of American Growth actually show that real incomes have slightly decreased between 1972 and 2013 for the bottom 90% of US workers. […]

So, it should come as no surprise that this chunk of the electorate would be drawn to Trump’s anti-trade, anti-China, anti-immigration rhetoric. Of course, Trump’s appeal is as much about style as it is about policies. And that style—vindictive, crude, authoritarian—is perhaps the biggest reason to be concerned by both the rise of Trump and the decline of the middle class.

“There’s plenty of literature linking a broad, healthy middle class with political stability and moderation in government. So it’s worth noting too that, on the Democratic side, liberal firebrand Sen. Bernie Sanders also won a surprise victory in the Michigan primary on Tuesday, over the more centrist Hillary Clinton. Growing numbers of Americans are veering toward extremism, and the rise of Trump is just a another sign of the fall of the US middle class. And it’s something worth worrying about.

Why Trump’s appeal is wider than you might think
by Nicholas Carnes and Noam Lupu

Contrary to these statements, however, lower-income and less-educated people aren’t the only voters backing Trump. Trump supporters—even the white ones—are rich and poor alike. They are law school grads and high school dropouts. Trump is leading the pack in every corner of the GOP, not just the working class.

In terms of income among Trump supporters, you’ll find roughly equal numbers of high-income, middle-income and low-income voters. According to data from a national NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Election Tracking Poll conducted online from March 7 through March 13, the share of Trump supporters who make more than $100,000 per year is almost exactly the same as the share of Trump supporters who make less than $50,000 (and that’s true even when you just look at white Trump supporters). Trump gets just as much of his support from the richest Americans as he does from the poorest.

In terms of education, it’s true that there are lots of people without college degrees backing Trump. But that’s because in the GOP—and in the U.S. in general—there are lots of people without college degrees period. According to the Census Bureau, among Americans 18 and over, about 71 percent don’t have college degrees. According to the tracking poll, among Trump supporters, about 74 percent don’t have college degrees, and that’s also true for the subset of white Trump supporters.

Trump’s fan base is not substantially less educated than the country as a whole.

The Donald’s Trump Card Isn’t an Ace
by John Stoehr

In other words, virtually everyone who voted for a Republican in Illinois, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Vermont and Virginia reported earning more than $50,000 a year. These are Trump voters. Even if they never went to college, they earn more than the average wage, which was $44,569.20 in 2014, according to the Social Security Administration.

Granted, that’s not a lot of money. But earning more than the national average individual income would appear to strain any credible definition of working class. Plus, half of those who pay payroll taxes – about 79 million people – earned less than $29,000 in 2014. Those aren’t Trump voters. Remember, virtually every GOP voter in 18 states said they earned more.

Higher income among even “poorly educated” individuals, as Trump might say, isn’t surprising in East Coast states like Connecticut, where the cost of living is relatively high. But the problems facing the often-told narrative of Trump’s support among white working-class voters don’t end there.

Even in Rust Belt states, where he’s said to have an advantage with Reagan Democrats, Trump didn’t perform as well as you might think. In Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Ohio, for instance, support among such voters never rose above 30 percent. He split that bloc with his rivals.

That Trump performed more or less on par with his rivals in Rust Belt states suggests that his supporters were already firmly conservative or already primed to choose any Republican, populist or otherwise, according to Andrew Levison, author of “The White Working Class Today” and analyst for “The Democratic Strategist,” a journal of public opinion and strategy. Indeed, Levison observed in a March white paper, Trump performed best not with Midwestern Reagan Democrats but with white working-class Southerners. This, he argued, isn’t due to Trump’s “right-wing version of economic populism” but “the racial and xenophobic elements of his platform.”

So the media narrative of Trump’s support among white working-class voters belabored by global economic forces is problematic for two reasons. One, many of his supporters are earning above-average incomes. Two, many voted for Trump for reasons having nothing to do with globalization.

From Slump to Trump
by Christopher Phelps

In a majority of the GOP primaries and caucuses to date (fifteen of twenty-seven) — including such northern states as Maryland, Illinois, and Massachusetts as well as southern states such as South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, and Tennessee — Trump swept to victory in every single income tranche, from lesser-paid to wealthy.

In Connecticut, for example, he won 59 percent of those making $50,000-100,000, 55 percent of those making $100,000-200,000, and 52 percent of those making more than $200,000. (No data is reported for that state on those making below $50,000.)

In New York, he actually gained in strength as the wealth scale moved upwards. There he took 52 percent of the votes of those making less than $30,000 and $30,000-50,000, but 62 percent in the $50,000-100,000 band and 63 percent of those making more than $100,000.

Poor and working-class voters make up only about a third of the GOP electorate, measured by an income below $50,000. (Again, a crude gauge: most graduate students make less, some unionized steelworkers more. But median household income is about $52,000, so in the aggregate an income below $50,000 does help approximate the working class. Full-time minimum-wage employees, the lowest rung of the working population, make $15,000.)

Upper-income citizens are far more likely to vote and therefore comprise an outsized portion of the electorate, particularly the GOP electorate, compared to their proportion in society. Again consider New York, where the 28 percent of GOP voters whose income is under $50,000 went for Trump by 52 percent. By contrast, those who make more than $50,000, a group that voted for him by 63 percent, made up 72 percent of the electorate. That’s huuuge.

In short, Trump’s plurality or majority among upper-middle and wealthy voters, because it carries more weight, has propelled his rise more than his popularity with those in the lower tax brackets where his popularity, speaking generally, is greater.

As for level of education, in 70 percent (nineteen of twenty-seven) of the GOP primaries and caucuses college-educated voters preferred Trump by either a plurality or majority. This again included such northern states as Illinois and Michigan as well as southern ones such as Georgia and Virginia.

Voter surveys measure college education in the following categories: none, some, a completed degree, or post-graduate studies. Notably, Trump did better or the same among those with some than among those with none in Indiana, Maryland, and Missouri, and virtually the same in others, such as West Virginia. In Vermont and Mississippi, he actually did better among college graduates than those with merely some college.

The data demonstrate, in other words, that if Trump is the preferred candidate of the GOP working class he has also been the preferred candidate of the GOP’s upper-middle-class, college-educated, and even wealthy constituents.

The only group that Trump consistently does not fare very well among is those with post-graduate education. For as long as the primaries were competitive they split their vote across the remaining field (Kasich, Cruz, Christie, Bush, and company).

What does it mean that Trump has done well among middle-income and higher-income voters but not the most-educated? This suggests that his real base of support is small-business owners, supervisory and middle-management employees, franchisees, landlords, real estate agents, propertied farmers, and so on: those who are not at the executive pinnacle of corporate America (who largely have MBAs and other similar degrees) and those who are not credentialed professionals (doctors, lawyers, and the like), but the much wider swath of those people whose livelihood is derived from independent business activity or middle-band positions in the corporate hierarchy.

This corresponds, of course, to the classic scenario in which the petty bourgeois — the middle class whose ownership of small parcels of property does not protect them from vulnerability in the business cycle and the need to exact self-exploitation — experience worry and insecurity following a financial crisis and economic slump, making them receptive to right-wing authoritarian solutions and scapegoating of ethnic-racial minorities.

Bubba Isn’t Who You Think
by Paul Krugman

In fact, if you look at voting behavior, low-income whites in the South are not very different from low-income whites in the rest of the country. You can see this both in Larry Bartels’s “What’s the matter with What’s the Matter With Kansas?” (pdf), Figure 3, and in a comprehensive study of red state-blue state differences by Gelman et al (pdf). It’s relatively high-income Southern whites who are very, very Republican. Can I get away with saying that rich white trash are the problem? Probably not.

What this reflects, in turn, is the odd fact that income levels seem to matter much more for voting in the South. Contrary to what you may have read, the old-fashioned notion that rich people vote Republican, while poorer people vote Democratic, is as true as ever – in fact, more true than it was a generation ago. But in rich states like New Jersey or Connecticut, the relationship is weak; even the very well off tend to be only slightly more Republican than working-class voters. In the poorer South, however, the relationship is very strong indeed.

This is why it’s true both that rich voters tend to be Republican, and that rich states tend to be Democratic.

American Populism, From Frustration to Hope

Every movement fails. Until it succeeds. And then, when it does, everyone says, of course it succeeded, it had to succeed. No, actually, it didn’t have to succeed. But what made it succeed—or at least helped it succeed—was that men and women, for a time, shook off the need for certitude, let go of the bannisters of certainty, remembered that they are not scientists, and put themselves into motion. Without knowing where they’d end up.
~ Corey Robin

There is a lot of frustration and demoralization in the air. It is quite the downer. The campaigns are moving into their nasty phase, and the rest of the population is following suit, those of us who aren’t simply feeling burned out and beat up by the endless harangue. It can lead to doubts and pessimism about the entire political system.

I noticed the effect of this with my dad who is showing signs of emotional fatigue. He utterly despises Trump. And he finds Cruz to be mean-spirited and divisive. As a last resort, he supported Rubio in the caucus, even though he sees him as a weak candidate against Democrats.

My dad has been in a despondent mood. Trump’s campaign, in particular, maybe makes him more sad than outraged. He can’t comprehend what it all means or why it’s happening. I could point out that the conservative movement has been intentionally pushing the GOP to ever greater reactionary extremism for a long time, but I don’t feel like putting my finger into that wound and wiggling it around.

I want to send my love out to the world. I know it’s bad. Instead of inspiration, we get politics as usual or else something worse. I hate seeing people turn on one another, especially average people who for decades have been dumped on by both parties. The voters on the other side aren’t the source of your problem. We don’t live in a functioning democracy and those people far off in Washington don’t represent you. If you want to take back America, whatever that might mean, then you’ll have to do it with more than a vote and a fight for your party, your candidate, your group.

Let’s get straight about the basics. Bernie Sanders isn’t a radical communist. Hillary Clinton isn’t a progressive feminist. Cruz isn’t a principled libertarian. Trump isn’t anything other than a car salesman in a fancy suit. And fergodsake NO! Sanders and Trump are not the same, populist rhetoric aside. Is that clear?

That is what these candidates aren’t. But the campaigns all share a commonality in responding to the public mood. People want something different and the candidates are all trying to present themselves in that light. For this reason, I suspect voters could so easily switch their loyalties as the campaign season continues. It’s not exactly politics as usual, although not as different as some like to pretend.

Let me further clarify a point. This campaign season isn’t an ideological battle. No, Americans aren’t particularly divided, at least not in the ways typically portrayed in the mainstream media (not even Obama has divided the public). When you look at polls, most Americans agree about most things, including healthcare and tax reform, even including taxing the wealthy more. Populism is in the air, all across the spectrum.

Even so, let me note something. Pew states that there is increasing polarization, although I’d point out that it is mostly among the activists and political elite. Anyway, Pew goes on to say that (Beyond Red vs. Blue, 2014):

Even so, most Americans do not view politics through uniformly liberal or conservative lenses, and more tend to stand apart from partisan antipathy than engage in it. But the typology shows that the center is hardly unified. Rather, it is a combination of groups, each with their own mix of political values, often held just
as strongly as those on the left and the right, but just not organized in consistently liberal or conservative terms. Taken together, this “center” looks like it is halfway between the partisan wings. But when disaggregated, it becomes clear that there are many distinct voices in the center, often with as little in common with each other as with those who are on the left and the right.

Looking at various data, I’ve noted that this mix or confusion even exists within ideological demographics and, of course, within the parties. For example, Pew data (Beyond Red vs. Blue, 2011) showed that 9% of Solid Liberals self-identify as ‘conservative’. That is a broad conservative movement that includes a significant number of people who are liberal across most issues. This is how symbolic ideology can trump all else, at least under the right conditions.

Categories that seem distinct can be porous and overlapping. Plus, there are larger patterns that cut across the seeming divides. How we group people can at times seem almost arbitrary.

The following is some data from a 2011 Pew poll. Progressivism has found favored opinion in both parties and among independents, with more support than even conservatism. Meanwhile, both ‘socialism’ and ‘libertarianism’ have found growing support. Libertarianism oddly gets a more positive response from Democrats than Republicans. More interesting is the comparison of socialism and capitalism, as explained by Sarah van Gelder:

There is growing willingness to name corporate rule and global capitalism as key problems, and to look to decentralized, place-based economies as the answer. While capitalism is viewed more favorably among all Americans than socialism, the reverse is true among those under 29, African Americans and Hispanics, and those making less than $30,000 a year, according to a Pew poll. And more Americans have a favorable view of socialism than of the Tea Party.

The most telling part is the numbers among Republicans. Libertarianism and the Tea Party have lost favor, among those who are supposedly its strongest supporters. At the same time, only 66% of conservative Republicans have a positive view of capitalism, while 25% (1 in 4) of moderate-to-liberal Republicans have a positive view of socialism. Even though that means 90% of Republicans overall still dislike socialism (as of 2011), that leaves 1 in 10 with either a positive or neutral position and I bet that latter group has been growing, especially among young Republicans. Then again, the younger generation has turned away from the Republican Party and this might have played a part, as after a while it would be hard to maintain the cognitive dissonance of listening to candidates of your party who attack what you support.

The youth vote is up in the air, for both parties—as described by Morgan Gilbard:

Millennials, usually categorized as individuals between 18 and 33, are less willing to identify with a party than ever before, according to a Pew Research study in April 2015. Only 18 percent identified as Republican and 28 percent as Democrat. A staggering 48 percent considered themselves independent, compared with 40 percent in 2008.

This is particularly true of a demographic Pew calls Young Outsiders. They are 14% of the general public, 15% of registered voters, and 11% of the politically engaged. Even Pew’s Next Gen Left (12%, 13%, 11%) could be pulled right based on their weaker support for a social safety net. And the relatively young Bystanders, 10% of the general population, could be inspired to become registered and politically engaged.

Although social liberalism is popular for Millennials, including among young Republicans, there are key issues that split the youth vote and could tip the balance in either direction. Frustration with the government could lead many otherwise liberal Millennials to vote Republican, just as frustration with the economy could lead many otherwise conservative Millennials to vote Democratic. Yet much of the frustration is basically the same across the board—Siraj Hashmi reports:

“Why are we fighting the Iraq War? Why are we spending billions of dollars trying to rebuild Afghanistan, which looks like the Moon, than spending money on our cities like Detroit? Why do we not care about putting Americans first? Those are very appealing questions,” Girdusky said. “They’re [Trump and Sanders] coming at different answers, but it’s the questions that millennials are asking themselves as well.”

The youth of today aren’t the same as the youth of the past. It is today’s youngest generation of voters that has the strongest support for both socialism and libertarianism (the opposite for older generations, including when they were younger), which maybe puts libertarian socialists such as Noam Chomsky in a new position of influence. It might even explain some of the appeal of Sanders, even for rural conservatives in his state, as his ‘socialism’ includes defense of gun rights. Among several demographics, there isn’t always a perfect alignment in their opinions about various labels. Blacks, for example, have a majority with positive views of conservatism, liberalism, and socialism. This seems to be related to what Pew recently has called the Faith and Family Left (30% Black, 19% Hispanic), 51% of which “hold an equal mix of liberal and conservative values”—while religiously and socially conservative in many ways, their liberalism being specifically a “strong support for government and a commitment to the social safety net.” So, conservatism can go along with ‘socialism’ just fine but even more strangely doesn’t even have to be opposed to liberalism. Ha!

This might partly relate to what “scholars of public opinion have distinguished between symbolic and operational aspects of political ideology” (Jost, Federico, & Napier). Few people seem to grasp this distinction. This explains the power of culture war rhetoric (i.e., symbolic ideology) and why that rhetoric will lose power as conditions change. Populist eras tend to defy easy ideological categorizations, and the public during such times isn’t as predictably easy to manipulate by machine politics. Symbolic ideology can quickly shift and morph, allowing the operational side to emerge. When people are hurting on a basic level of making a living and getting by, the symbolic and operational can come into alignment. That is the power and potential of populism, and also its danger.

Related to this, there have been many articles about Republicans turning to join the Sanders campaign. Who are these Republicans feeling the Bern? The more recent 2014 Pew poll (Beyond Red vs. Blue) tells us who they are. But first let me tell you who they aren’t. What Pew calls Business Conservatives is a demographic that is more socially liberal and pro-immigration, while of course being strong in their economic conservatism—74% of them believe that “Wall Street helps economy more than it hurts.” That is unsurpising. Now for the other major group on the political right, Steadfast Conservatives. Close to half of them (41%) disagree with this faith in Wall Street. Most Americans (62%) think that “Economic system unfairly favors powerful,” with Steadfast Conservatives being divided on this issue (48% unfair; 47% fair), but even almost a third (31%) of Business Conservatives agree that it is unfair. A larger majority of Americans (78%) think that “Too much power is concentrated in hands of few large companies”—in response to this, division is even greater on the political right with 71% of Steadfast Conservatives agreeing and once again about a third (35%) of Business Conservatives agreeing as well, although it should be noted that it is a small majority (only 57%) of the latter who state that the “Largest companies do not have too much power.”

These are the populists that Trump is also able to tap, but also the type of person who might choose Sanders over someone like Cruz. The era of culture wars is coming to an end and class war is taking its place. A divide is growing even among upper and lower classes in the conservative movement. Also, among Independents (even those who lean Republican: Pew’s Young Outsiders), the majority sees the Democratic Party as more caring about the middle class, an attitude that puts some wind in Sanders’ sails. In US politics, rhetoric about the middle class has immense symbolic force, as it speaks to both the fears of the shrinking middle class and the throttled aspirations of the working class.

On a slightly different note, some see nationalist fervor as being an area of divisiveness and conflict, that which could negate or mute all else. Conservatives supposedly think America is the best and anyone who disagrees should leave. It is true that many ‘conservative’ politicians and pundits talk that way, but it isn’t what most conservatives think in private. The majority of all Americans across the spectrum don’t believe that “The U.S. stands above all other countries,” even as they do think it’s a great country. On this note, most Americans don’t believe the US should use its capacity of ‘overwhelming’ force to fight terrorism. And, in a different area of policy, most Americans support a path to citizenship for immigrants and support affirmative action—a majority of conservatives supporting the former and a third of conservatives supporting the latter. Patriotic and prejudicial rhetoric is effective for getting strident activists and loyal supporters excited at GOP campaigns. It’s just not likely to sway most potential voters come election time. The average American simply isn’t all that concerned about such things, specifically not in terms of a chest-beating fear-mongering attitude.

Even religion isn’t going to do much for conservatives and Republicans, not even from Evangelicals. The majority of young believers are progressive and liberal, increasingly both in terms of how they label themselves and in what they support (e.g., same sex marriage). Minorities have higher rates of religiosity than even white conservatives. According to Pew’s 2014 Beyond Red vs. Blue, the most religiously-oriented demographic is the Democratic-voting Faith and Family Left—91% affirming that it is “Necessary to believe in God to be moral,” whereas this agreed to by only 69% of Steadfast Conservatives and 31% of Business Conservatives. As for the majority of Americans, they don’t hold this religious view of morality.

Similarly, most Americans don’t take the Bible literally, do acknowledge Darwinian evolution, think homosexuality should be accepted and favor gay marriage, support abortion in all/most cases, see no reason to expect people to prioritize marriage and children over all else, don’t believe Islam is inherently violent, etc. I could point to dozens of other issues that demonstrate the liberalism of Americans (e.g., majority support of global warming and need of improved environmental regulations, such as 71% saying “should do whatever it takes to protect the environment”), at least in terms of operational ideology and I’d argue increasingly in terms of symbolic ideology as well (e.g., the progressive label now being more popular than the conservative label).

The real Silent Majority, left and right, are those tired of the divisive and mean-spirited culture war rhetoric. Only the political and media elite remain divided by their own rhetoric. Still, the divisive minority is disproportionately vocal and influential, but my sense is that most Americans are growing tired of this minority dominating politics.

Obviously, people are beginning to see labels and ideologies in new ways, as they more and more question the status quo. You can begin to feel the change in the air. How the American public and the two main parties get described in the MSM simply no longer matches reality on the ground. The real divide is older and wealthier non-Hispanic white people versus everyone else. It’s ultimately a class divide, since most of the wealth is concentrated among the older generations and among non-Hispanic whites. The rest of the population is economically struggling or, at best, stuck and stagnating.

Let me return to the issue of what does and doesn’t divide most Americans. Over the years, I’ve talked to a variety of my fellow citizens, online and in my everyday life. I’m often surprised by the amount of agreement that exists, if and when you get past superficial divisive rhetoric. You wouldn’t know that by paying attention to the mainstream media and the partisan campaigning.

All the time, I find points of agreement with my dad who is a lifelong Republican, and this agreement usually involves the issues that get ignored by the mainstream. My mom, an old school conservative and former public school teacher, defends public education and she also supports a return of a New Deal work program for the unemployed. My second cousin is a right-wing libertarian and Tea Partier, and yet we both are inspired by the same ‘socialist’ vision of Star Wars: The Next Generation.

Heck, Sander’s own ‘socialism’ simply represents much of what most Americans state they already support in polls. One of the strongest arguments many Hillary Clinton supporters make is that they want a woman for president, but I doubt many other Americans oppose that, not even Republicans with their own female candidate. Likewise with libertarianism, even many on the political left (including many minorities) might be fine with a president who was a genuine libertarian, that is to say not an authoritarian corporatist theocon—see Reason Magazine’s take on this:

A majority—53 percent—of millennials say they would support a candidate who described him or herself as socially liberal and economically conservative, 16 percent were unsure, and 31 percent would oppose such a candidate.

Interestingly, besides libertarians, liberal millennials are the most supportive of a libertarian-leaning candidate by a margin of 60 to 27 percent. Conservative millennials are most opposed (43% to 48% opposed).

A libertarian-leaning candidate would appeal to both Democratic and Republican voters. For instance, 60 percent of Hillary Clinton voters, 61 percent of Rand Paul voters, 71 percent of Chris Christie voters, and 56 percent of those who approve of President Obama all say they would support a fiscally conservative, socially liberal candidate.

As for Trump’s followers, that is a whole other ball of wax. They are just outraged beyond all sense or reason. It really doesn’t matter what Trump says or advocates. I suspect his followers would follow him all the way to Soviet-style communism without blinking an eye, proclaiming conservative rhetoric all the while. The outrage may get a lot of attention and the mainstream media loves it for its entertainment value (i.e., advertising dollars), but it has little to do with what most Americans want, not even among Republicans.

Americans aren’t ideological in the sense that word is normally used. Social science research has shown this. Most Americans support liberal and progressive policies, even as they support symbolic conservatism. The latter is why culture war rhetoric is so persuasive. The thing about symbolic conservatism, though, is that it has no inherent meaning. It captures a mood, a sensibility, or an attitude—not so much a specific political system or worldview. When you look at the present and former communist countries, they are all socially conservative. It’s important to remember that conservatism isn’t the same thing as right-wing, which is particularly clear when one considers how socially liberal are most libertarians. Economic populism in the US in the past was strongly supported by conservatives. There is even an old history of Christian socialism.

In the end, labels are mostly meaningless. That is being demonstrated with Sanders campaign. It doesn’t matter what he calls himself. He is drawing support from many Independents and even is luring a surprising number of Republicans who are fed up with the GOP circus. In reality, Sanders is just an old school New Dealer. So was Reagan before he became a neoliberal (he never lost his admiration for FDR). There is nothing contradictory between conservatism as a general view and the economic left. Russell Kirk was the mid-20th century thinker who made American conservatism respectable again and yet he saw no problem voting for a Socialist Party candidate.

Clinton and other mainstream types point to Sanders’ history on gun policy. They see this as harsh criticism, proving he is no liberal. Such an argument merely proves how disconnected are the political and media elite. Most liberals, like most conservatives, are for gun rights. Just as most conservatives, like most liberals, are for stronger gun regulation. There is no contradiction here. As a politician, Sanders doesn’t just represent urbanites but also many rural folk. As in Iowa that usually votes for Democratic candidates in presidential elections, you don’t have to be a crazy right-winger to own a gun. On the political left, there is between a quarter and a third who have a gun in their homes (depending on the Pew demographic). That isn’t extremely different from the half of those on the political right who have a gun in their homes. It is important to remember also that conservation, a major issue supposedly for liberals, has always been strongly defended by gun-toting hunters.

None of this is about ideology in a simple sense. Nor is it about parties. Voters switch parties easier than do most politicians and candidates. Even entire parties shift over time, as with the GOP once having been the home of radical left-wingers—critics having called them Red Republicans. As for Democrats, it was common to find white supremacists among their ranks earlier last century. Obviously, the parties have changed… and they will keep changing. Until a short while ago, Sanders wasn’t even a Democrat. If an Independent politician can become a Democratic candidate, then maybe many Independent voters will follow suit.

Older Americans still live in the shadow of McCarthyism and many tremble with fear at being associated with communism and socialism, but younger Americans simply don’t give a frack about Cold War propaganda since they never knew the Cold War. Those among us who do remember it are simply tired of it and are ready for something new.

I’ll tell you what I care about—democracy! That is always the first victim of the US campaign season. I’m not a political animal. It doesn’t even take a Trump to make me despondent. Still, I care about democracy, if only as a vision and a glimmer of potential.

The first political candidate I ever cared about was Ralph Nader. That was back in 2000. I was entirely apolitical before that. It was a shock to the system when I heard Nader speak. Holy shit! This was a politician who had principles and actually believed them. You could hear it in his voice. I had never come across that before.

That was the first time I voted for a presidential candidate. It was a strange campaign to which to lose my political virginity. I felt dirty afterwards. The ugliness of that campaign season put this one to shame. Nader supporters like me got blamed for everything going wrong, even though the Democratic candidate won the election before it was handed over to Bush by the Supreme Court. Shouldn’t the Democrats instead have been mad at a system that was proven corrupt and been mad at their own candidate who bowed down before that corruption, refusing to challenge it?

It was disturbing that the members of a party called Democratic would be so accepting of a process that was shown to be so blatantly undemocratic. To many Americans, it was just corrupt politics as usual, as if there was nothing that could be done about it other than to repeat the same insanity and idiocy four years later.

Of course, the kind of Democrat that attacked Nader voters in the past are now attacking Sanders supporters now, with the DNC leadership trying to tilt the field in Clinton’s favor (e.g., shutting down debates or scheduling them when few would watch). It’s the same old game: defend the status quo at all costs, even as the status quo grows worse and worse. The reason given is that the only alternative to present problems are even worse problems. So, vote for the lesser evil, going down a road paved of good intentions, until by slow descent we all end up in hell. Third Way politics has turned out to be nothing more than an appeasement to the powers that be. More of the same will just get us more of the same, all the while expecting something different, what some define as madness.

Even Sanders isn’t some extreme alternative. On military issues, he might not be all that different from Obama who has followed the example of Bush. Even his economic views are really just mainstream social democracy, rather moderate and tame, and popular as well. The main advantage Sanders offers is the possibility of a shift in the political narrative, a chance to widen the range of allowable opinion. He isn’t much of a socialist, but just the ability to use that word in a national campaign is a breath of fresh air. It’s a sign of new options being put on the table. I’m so tired of replaying the Cold War endlessly. The Russians aren’t going to invade. We don’t need to constantly act in permanent panic mode—America against all the world, including too often American against other Americans. It’s time to look not to the past, but to the future, to new possibilities.

This is what gives me hope. The younger generations don’t carry all that baggage from last century. And it really is a heavy load on the shoulders of the Cold War generations. Americans haven’t been able to think straight about almost anything for a long time, our minds being in the vice grip of paralyzing rhetoric.

In the Cold War battle between left-wing communism and right-wing fascism (or what others call corporatism, crony capitalism, inverted totalitarianism, etc), the latter won and we are living with the results of that. Instead of Godless communism, the ruling elite promoted a religious-tinged culture war both in the US and around the world. The US and other Western governments took out the communist governments in places like the Middle East and helped to replace them with Islamic nationalism (or else ruthless dictators), in the hope that it would keep the oil flowing and neoliberal markets open. How did that work out? The youth today wouldn’t mind a bit of Godlessness at this point, maybe even a moderate dose of genuine leftism for a change.

I do believe that shifting public perception is one of the most important things we can do right now. It doesn’t matter that Sanders isn’t actually a socialist. I realize that electing him president won’t lead to revolutionary changes that will transform our government toward a functioning democracy nor our economy toward socialism. What it will do is open up a space where dialogue can begin. No other mainstream candidate is offering such an opportunity. That shouldn’t be dismissed with cynicism and supposed realpolitik pragmatism.

I sense many Americans agree with me on this. What we need right now is a way of speaking across the many divides of generations and skin color, parties and ideologies. As Americans, our concerns, our lives, and our fate is held in common. It’s not about finding the right leader to solve our problems, but to reenvision who we are as a people. We don’t need to take America back. We are America, all of us.

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(I should make note of something. I wasn’t ignoring third party candidates. I actually despise the two-party system. I like that Sanders’ campaign is opening up discussion of important issues, such as what does and could socialism mean in a democracy, and heck what does and could democracy mean in a corporatist political system. Yet, all in all, I’m more likely to vote third party. But in a sense this post isn’t really about the presidential election. My interest is in what this all means for the American people, where is it that we are heading, what is possible.)

* * *

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