The Public Religion Research Institute, which says it was “founded to provide high-quality public opinion survey research focused on religion, values, and American public policy,” just released a new nationwide polling study that puts particular focus on the attitudes of the white working class.
For example, the polling conducted in mid-August reported that white working-class voters gave Mitt Romney (48 percent) a 13-point advantage over Barack Obama (35 percent). However, that Romney advantage was due entirely to his 27-point advantage among white working-class men. Among white working-class women, the two candidates were tied. They were also all but tied among college-educated white voters, with Romney ahead by just two percentage points.
Romney’s lead among working-class white Americans could also be explained by his massive margin here in the South, where he led by 40 points, 62 percent to 22 percent. As the study notes, “neither candidate held a statistically significant lead among white working-class voters in the West (46% Romney vs. 41% Obama), Northeast (42% Romney vs. 38% Obama) or the Midwest (36% Romney vs. 44% Obama).”
If you do the math, the chances of a white working-class male in the South supporting Obama become pretty darn small, somewhere around 10-15 percent.
However, the more fascinating parts of the report go deeper, providing interesting data on attitudes regarding wealth and capitalism in modern America:
“Seven in ten (70%) white working-class Americans and over six in 10 (62%) white college-educated Americans believe the economic system in this country unfairly favors the wealthy. A majority (53%) of white working-class Americans also say that one of the big problems in this country is that we don’t give everyone an equal chance in life. However, less than half (48%) of white college-educated Americans agree that it’s not really that big a problem if some people have more of a chance in life than others.
Substantial majorities of black (78%) and Hispanic (69%) Americans agree that the economic system in this country favors the wealthy. There is, however, a substantial difference in intensity: nearly half (46%) of black Americans strongly agree with this statement, compared to 28% of Hispanic Americans. Over three-quarters (77%) of black Americans and around six in 10 (62%) Hispanic Americans agree that one of the big problems in this country is that we don’t give everyone an equal chance in life.
There are deep political divisions on the issue of equal opportunity. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of Democrats and a slim majority of Independents (53%) agree that one of the big problems in this country is that we don’t give everyone an equal chance, while nearly six in 10 (58%) Republicans say it’s not really that big a problem if some people have more of a chance in life than others. Similarly, only 44% of Republicans believe that the economic system in this country unfairly favors the wealthy, compared to 85% of Democrats and two-thirds (67%) of Independents.
The poll also explored what you might call the Paul Ryan Dilemma, after the vice presidential nominee who professes both a strong Catholic faith and, until recently at least, a strong affinity for the teachings of Ayn Rand:
“Americans are divided over the extent to which capitalism and the free market system and Christian values can coexist: a plurality (44%) believe that capitalism and the free market system are at odds with Christian values, while 41% agree that capitalism is consistent with Christian values. Fifteen percent say they do not know.
White working-class Americans are significantly more likely than white college-educated Americans to say that capitalism is at odds with Christian values. A majority (53%) of white college-educated Americans agree that capitalism and the free market system are consistent with Christian values, while 35% disagree. By contrast, a plurality (46%) of white working-class Americans believe that capitalism is at odds with Christian values, while 38% disagree.”
Overall 62 percent of white working-class Americans favor raising the tax rate on Americans with household incomes of over $1 million per year. Conversely, the report finds, “A solid majority (58%) of Americans agree that the federal government should provide fewer services and reduce taxes, while slightly more than one-third (36%) say the government should provide more services, even if it means higher taxes.”
These are the deeper currents that political experts in both parties are attempting to turn to their advantage in the next few weeks.
– Jay Bookman