Class Doesn’t Trump Culture

Class Doesn’t Trump Culture

America’s Forgotten Majority:
Why the White Working Class
Still Matters
by Ruy Teixeira and Joel Rogers
Basic Books, 2000 232 pp $27

The basic premise of Ruy Teixeira and Joel Rogers’s America’s Forgotten Majority: Why the White Working Class Still Matters is right on target. Over the past three decades, the most volatile and influential constituency in American elections has been the white, moderate-income voter, most often without a college degree. These are the voters who broke their ties to the Democratic Party to vote for candidates ranging from George Wallace to Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan. They have been described as “the silent majority,” “Reagan Democrats,” and “angry white men.” These voters were crucial to the creation of a conservative presidential majority throughout the 1980s. Bill Clinton’s success in 1992 was based in large part on his ability to persuade them to cast a ballot for a Democrat who would “end welfare as we know it” and honor those who “work hard and play by the rules.” In the 2000 election, strategists for both George W. Bush and Al Gore agreed that the key target constituency was “America’s forgotten majority.”

Teixeira and Rogers have put together a powerful array of data and statistics demonstrating the pivotal role of this critical group, and their argument in behalf of the white working class should be closely studied by all those who seek to influence national politics. But to understand the current competitive success of Republican candidates among lower income voters, the Teixeira-Rogers analysis should be expanded to include an analysis of the impact on the American electorate of the rights revolutions of the past thirty-five years—human rights, women’s rights, civil rights, gay rights, defendants’ rights, sexual rights, privacy rights, immigration rights, and, more generally, rights to a liberally conceived personal autonomy. The rights revolutions have changed the character of the two major political parties and have challenged the primacy of class-based analyses of American politics.

The strength of America’s Forgotten Majority lies in the effective marshaling of data on both political and economic trends. Teixeira and Rogers show that virtually all of the decline in support for Democratic presidential candidates from the start of the 1960s through the 1980s and 1990s has been among white voters without college degrees, most especially white men. The finding most devastating for the Democrats is that the Republican revolution of 1994 was driven in large part by the defection to the GOP of male, white, high school graduates and those with some college education but without degrees. From 1992 to 1994, the Democratic margins among these two groups of men dropped an extraordinary twenty and fifteen points respectively. The Democratic margin among white women with high school degrees and those wi...