In a post last week about the future of the Democratic Party in the South, I warned that those Democrats who advocate giving up on the South in effect advocate giving up on white working-class voters, which would have implications well beyond Dixie.
A new poll on attitudes about the economy, published in The Washington Post, provides a lot more fodder for that discussion. It found that white Americans are considerably more pessimistic about the nation’s economic future, considerably more frustrated and, not surprisingly, considerably less supportive of Obama and the Democrats. Those attitudes were particularly prevalent among white Americans with less than a college education.
As the Post writers describe it:
A mere 10 percent of whites without college degrees say they are satisfied with the nation’s current economic situation. Most – 56 percent – say the country’s best days are in the past, and more, 61 percent, say it will be a long time before the economy begins to recover.
Fully 43 percent of non-college whites say “hard work and determination are no guarantees of success,” and nearly half doubt that they have enough education and skills to compete in the job market.
The Post didn’t release data breaking down responses between college-educated and non-college white Americans, but the demographic data it did release was fascinating nonetheless. Take a look at the difference in economic optimism:
The loss of faith in important institutions such as government and Wall Street was also considerably stronger among white Americans than among their fellow Americans.
However, perhaps the starkest divisions came when pollsters asked Americans whether they thought the government was doing too much, too little, or the right amount to help a series of groups, from their own families to Wall Street. White Americans were far more willing than black and Hispanic Americans to say the government wasn’t doing enough to help them, and was doing too much to help the wealthy and Wall Street.
I think those numbers help to illuminate a whole range of political phenomena, from the labor standoff in Wisconsin to the Tea Party movement to last fall’s midterms. Even though statistics demonstrate that black and Hispanic Americans are getting hit hardest in this recession in terms of jobs and income lost, it is white Americans who feel most vulnerable, most frustrated, most pessimistic and most in need of a government looking out for their interests.
– Jay Bookman