Class Trumps Race

Appeal to suburbanites or blue-collar workers?

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Disunity among Democrats is, of course, nothing new. What has changed is the most important fault line of division. Race and region used to be the keys to intraparty splits. From the Depression to the civil rights movement, for example, the Democratic Party was a hodgepodge of Southern segregationists and Northern urban liberals, divisions that the New Democrats repackaged during the 1980s, with stances on fighting crime and “reforming welfare” that appealed to white Southerners and Northern working-class whites worried about the black poor.

But in the 1990s, the New Democrats, with their emphasis on an “information age” economy, are orienting themselves away from working-class voters and toward upscale suburbanites across the country. This has created an opening for the populists to position themselves as “lunch-bucket Democrats,” reaching out to blue-collar and lower-middle-class families. Although affirmative action and welfare remain contentious within the Democratic Party, neither the New Democrats nor the populists are highlighting racially divisive issues.

A shrinking electorate and an increasingly money-driven polity spur opposite responses from the two Democratic factions. Despite easier registration under the Motor Voter bill, the 1996 election had the lowest turnout since 1924 — and voting was sharply skewed by family income. Richer Americans vote more, while also lobbying and giving political contributions, making them an appealing target for the New Democrats. Populists, meanwhile, want to make headway by activating enlarged support at the grassroots. This is a much tougher proposition, but, over the course of several elections, it might do more to counter the Republicans.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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