Ruy Teixeira

Ruy Teixeira is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Recent Articles

Understanding Trump’s White Working Class Support

Tom Edsall’s most recent Times column claims, “We Aren’t Seeing White Support for Trump for What It Is.” The column is based heavily on a paper by political scientists Herbert Kitschelt and Philipp Rehm entitled, “Secular Partisan Realignment in the United States: The Socioeconomic Reconfiguration of White Partisan Support since the New Deal Era.”

Edsall’s central takeaway from the paper is:

Kitschelt and Rehm find that the surge of whites into the Republican Party has been led by whites with relatively high incomes—in the top two quintiles of the income distribution—but without college degrees, a constituency that is now decisively committed to the Republican Party.

Based on the actual data in the paper, there are several problems with this characterization—though, given that the paper authors themselves encourage this sort of interpretation, Edsall can be forgiven for his take.

Start with the basic categories the paper authors use. There are four categories, both overall and for white voters: low education/low income (LE-LI); low education/high income (LE-HI); high education/low income (HE-LI) and high education/high income (HE-HI). Low education is less than a BA; high education is a BA or more; low income is the bottom two-thirds of the income distribution; high income is the top third.

The category the authors focus on the most is low education/high income, with the implication that such voters are not really “working class.” I beg to differ. One does not have to be low income to be working class. A household income of, say, $90,000 should not eject one from the working class—it merely means you’re somewhat better off than your poorer brethren. Not that $90,000 suggests such a fabulous standard of living, especially for older workers supporting a family, who are undoubtedly heavily represented in this group.

Definitional issues aside, the real problem here is that the authors’ data does not really show what they imply. First, look at the difference between the LE-LI and LE-HI groups in terms of occupational mix (Tables D1 and E3 of the paper). LE-LI is 76 percent blue and lower white collar plus mixed service functionaries (basically clerical jobs) plus low service functionaries. LE-HI is 61 percent from the same basket of jobs (and note that there is significant representation here of independent contractor-type construction workers and carpenters who aren’t counted in the 61 percent). So, different, but not that different.

Second, consider the size of these two different groups. The LE-LI is over half (!) of voters, while LE-HI is a mere 16 percent. Given the relative size of these two groups, it would only make sense to say the LE-HI group was “leading” the stampede to the GOP/Trump if there was little change in the much larger LE-LI group and much sharper change in the smaller LE-HI group.

But this is decidedly not the case. It turns out that (Figure 3) the white LE-LI and LE-HI voters had identical pro-Trump voting patterns in 2016. Moreover, since 2008 the figure shows a remarkably precipitous group in Democratic support among LE-LI voters. Hmm. It seems like, given the very large size of this group and this precipitous drop, it is the LE-LI group that is “leading” the move toward Trump, not the more affluent group.

All that said, I would be tempted to recommend that you read this paper because there really is a lot of interesting information in it. However, be forewarned that the paper is larded with enough political science jargon to sink a battleship. I speak the lingo so can slog my way through it without too much difficulty; your experience may be different.

As a final thought, I see the erroneous interpretation of this paper as feeding into the ongoing effort to depict Trump’s supporters as not having any “economic anxiety.” Hey, look they’re doing fine, it must be that they’re just racists! I note that this view is usually promulgated by people whose household incomes are far above those of the even relatively-well-off white working class. “Economic anxiety” can be considerably broader than not being able to pay your bills this month or put food on the table. To understand our fellow Americans, that’s an important thing to keep in mind.

Don't Mourn, Mobilize

It's getting harder and harder to be middle class. As a result of the Bush administration's relentless tax-cutting agenda -- designed to limit the ability of government to deliver services -- the lives of middle-class Americans are becoming more difficult and less secure, in areas from health care to pensions to public schools. But, in the immortal words of Bob Dole, "Where's the outrage?" Why have these attacks not provoked a greater political reaction? And what chance is there for a progressive middle-class response to these attacks in the future? This lack of outrage seems particularly odd because the middle class is aware of the attacks upon it. People in general, and the middle class in particular, believe that Bush-administration policies have favored the interests of large corporations and the rich over those of ordinary people and the middle class. An early January CBS News poll found that, by huge margins, the public thought that Bush administration policies favor the rich (...

The Myth of the Investor Class

Although the ownership of stocks and bonds is more highly concentrated than ever, we've been hearing a great deal lately about the rise of an "investor class." This concept, used with much abandon by free-market theorists and political operatives, holds that the simple act of participating in the stock market, even if indirectly and in only small amounts, moves people into this new investor class -- a class that supports as little regulation and taxation as possible, because that benefits America's companies and therefore the stock market. How plausible is this? Should free marketeers really be cheered? Should advocates of social outlay, regulation and progressive taxation be alarmed? We can distinguish between two versions of the theory. In the shorter-acting version, as more voters own stock, they turn toward Republicans and Democratic conservatives to defend and extend their interests as stockholders. In the longer-acting version, as more voters own stock, they become increasingly...

Where the Democrats Lost

Where did the Democrats lose in 2002? A lot rides on this question; wrong answers will produce poor targeting and ineffective politics, and the Democrats can afford precious little of either. But right answers can set the stage for future gains in the 2004 election and beyond. Base Mobilization Perhaps the most common answer -- certainly among Democrats -- has been base mobilization. In this view, the Democrats' 2002 campaign failed to excite their political base, which consequently turned out at low levels and didn't offer the consistently high support the party has enjoyed in previous elections. Let's take the issue of support levels first. We are handicapped here and elsewhere by the absence of exit polls in this election, with the exception of a Los Angeles Times exit poll in California. However, a combination of telephone surveys taken right before, during and after the election, plus analyses of county and precinct voting results, does allow for some provisional assessments...

Next Steps

Let's try to organize our thinking about this election, shall we? (Those who prefer to panic may leave the room.) We'll look at four topics, in the following order: -- What happened? -- Why did it happen? -- Where did it happen? -- What does it all mean, especially for future Democratic politics? What Happened? Consider the following numbers: Senate: -2 House: -5 Governors: +3 These are, of course, the Democratic net losses (and gains) in the 2002 election. Repeat them to yourself several times; they do not seem, on the face of it, to indicate a Republican tsunami that swept away everything in its path. In fact, these numbers suggest the partisan balance of the country, at least in terms of voting and public support, has changed only slightly. This is different from, say, 1994, when huge Republican gains (52 House seats, nine Senate seats, 10 governors) really did dramatically change the partisan balance. But, when the country is divided as evenly as it currently is, small changes can...