If there’s one group in Massachusetts politics that has long been downtrodden, disrespected, shortchanged, and taken for granted it is the white working class. But thanks to Scott Brown white workers are cool, hip, sexy, and even – gulp – Republican?
Well maybe I’ve had some hyperbolic fun here but the white working class is experiencing heightened electoral relevance, at least if you accept the definition of working class as either lower educated voters or union households (a somewhat dubious definition since it encompasses everything from Laborers to well, UMass professors).
In his 1965 book The Political Cultures of Massachusetts Edgar Litt described Workers as largely urban residents, descendants of Irish, Italian, French-Canadian and Polish immigrants. (Many have since fled the cities). The Workers gained their political strength through numbers but were already ceding power to the Managers in the Sixties as the Massachusetts economy changed to focus upon research and technology. As I’ve argued in posts about “The Governor Party – the Managers,” the managers have become key to electing a governor. But when Scott Brown beat Martha Coakley by twenty points among lower educated voters the pollster for the AFL-CIO described Brown’s triumph “as a working-class revolt.”
There is yet another definition argued by political scientist Andrew Gelman in Red State, Blue State and that is that when discussing working class voters the social variable of education is a poor indicator and we should instead focus upon income. He makes a good case and we’ll get back to it but for this post let’s look closer at education and union households.
In the recent Western New England U/MassLive.com/Springfield Republican poll, respondents with a high school education or less favored Brown by 56%-36% — the same twenty points by which Brown beat Coakley. But it isn’t unusual for lower educated voters to abandon the Democrats. In the October 2006 Boston Globe poll Democrat Deval Patrick was drawing only 38% of the vote among high school or less voters. In the 2008 exit poll, by contrast, Barack Obama picked up 63% of lower educated voters. In the last Globe poll in October 2010, Governor Patrick was drawing a paltry 22% of the vote among voters with high school or less. Such extreme swings make me suspicious but Democrats apparently have problems with lower educated voters, who may range up to about 22% of the vote. And it isn’t just about barn jackets and pick-up trucks.
(To give a sense of income as an indicator of working class status, the lowest income group in the October 2006 Globe poll was under $30K, and Patrick won them with 54% of the vote. Obama won that group with 72%, and the October 2010 Globe poll didn’t include an income variable but the June 2010 Globe poll had Patrick winning 48% of the lowest income voters in a three way race. The February MassInc/WBUR poll had Warren beating Brown by 55-39% among low income voters).
Now to union households. The February Suffolk U/7News poll has Brown winning union households – about 25% of the vote – by 48%-41%. This is in a state where the Democrat Party was built with the backing of two institutions: the labor movement and the Catholic Church. So how does Brown do with Catholics? No idea, we’re far too sophisticated in Massachusetts to include religion variables in a media survey. But my guess is that Brown wins Catholics handily. (And I also assume that Brown knows it. Media pollsters may be too sophisticated to poll religion, but I bet Brown does).
So white working class, go all peacock. Have that bacon and egg breakfast and stop at Dunkin’s for a coffee and cruller on the way to work. After you punch out head to the Eire Pub for a bump and a beer (the Eire has been admitting women for years and you’ll have to step outside to puff on that Marlboro, but still . . .) Rare steak and a baked spud drowned in butter for dinner.
It’s been a while, but you’re hot, you’re sexy, you’re now. So thank Scott Brown. Because he sure ought to be thanking you.