Can Democrats listen to the white working class without forgetting people of color? By Alex Ortiz

The Obama/Trump voter might be one of the most perplexing phenomenon in electoral politics in some time when it comes to voting demographics. Conventional wisdom might dictate that these are Americans for whom the economy of the last eight years has not been working for. They have been devastated by high healthcare costs (double digit increases in some states), a loss of solid jobs shipped off to other countries due to trade deals, and even by substance abuse epidemics.

While the rust belt’s dissatisfaction with American institutions seeming a world away from the big liberal bubbles of America’s cities, it is real and should be regarded. Although there are some factors that need to be clarified to better understand them and not cast them in a false light.

Overwhelmingly, education seemed to be the dividing line between Trump and Clinton. As FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver found, in the 50 least-educated counties with at least 50,000 people, the economic diversity is striking. He makes the point that there are some poor counties, but others that have average incomes. Basically when it comes to income, the picture is not as clean cut as one might assume. The Washington Post found that of the number of white adults 25 or older without a bachelor's degree, about 43 percent do have some education beyond a high school diploma. If you look at median weekly earnings, white workers with only a high school education make more than Black, Asian, and Latino workers.

There are other factors that complicate the idea of the white, working class voter. The Post also found that most live in cities and suburbs, not in the rural parts of the country. Most of them do not hold “working class” jobs like in factories and the manufacturing sector. While the opioid problem is present in white communities, those without a bachelor’s degree, only 2 percent of them reported using heroin or prescription painkillers for nonmedical purposes. Alcohol and marijuana are more prevalent in these communities. The white working class is also slightly less religious than the rest of the country.

So what does all of this mean?

For one, it might not be that the white working class and that working Americans of color are facing the same sorts of economic hurdles as we might suspect. While it is worthwhile to try and reach across the aisle and try to have an increased amount of cross-cultural understanding, we must also be very honest with what it is that fueled a Trump election to the White House.

Some progressives view the 2016 election as more of a Clinton failure than a Trump victory. While the millions of white Americans who came out were key in his election, it was also a matter of failing to get out the vote of people of color. Even though Clinton won those demographics overwhelmingly, she did not perform as well, especially among millennials. President Obama earned 93 percent of the African-American vote in 2012, while Clinton only got 88 percent. Likewise, Obama carried 71 percent of Latinos; Clinton had 65 percent.

There are very good reasons for these gaps. For some, Clinton is still emblematic of the policies of her husband which cut welfare and increased the number of people in prison by almost 60 percent, which disproportionately affected African-Americans. Even her husband now agrees that the 1994 crime bill was wrong. Also, while Clinton has been an advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, the Obama administration has not had success and in fact has deported about 2 million undocumented immigrants, more than any president in U.S. history. That has not sat well with Latinos, especially young ones.

The strategy going forward for Democrats and progressives cannot simply be to attempt to appeal to solely the white working class. Clinton spent the general election reaching out to moderate Republicans in states where, at least according to the polls, she was over-performing, like North Carolina and Arizona. It turned out to be a futile effort. So hindsight being 20/20, it would have served her much better to recommit the Democratic party to getting out the vote in recently trending blue states which Trump narrowly one like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

This is further evidence of the need for the Democratic party to solidify its base, and by that, it means that it really has to expand the support of the groups that already overwhelmingly favor it over the Republicans. Fortunately for them, they have appeared to have gotten the message. Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have been put in party leadership positions, but beyond them, there is a diverse new crop of young party talent that can lead the party to a more progressive platform and attract voters of color who feel that their votes have not been good investments. Rep. Keith Ellison, who is vying for the DNC Chair position, Rep.-elect Kamala Harris, and Sen. Cory Booker are just some of the names that can excite the Democratic base and really speak to issues, like mass incarceration, that disproportionately affect people of color.

Again, that is not to say that the cries of the white working class should be ignored. Even Vice President Joe Biden has critiqued his party for not being able to effectively speak to their struggles. But in that effort to improve those relations, it is paramount that the Democratic party not alienate its base, which elected the first African-American president to the White House, and which could help it regain control in future elections.

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