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Working-class voters

For those interested in the American election, Henry Olsen has an in-depth piece on the too-fast, too-far Obama Democrats, but he also explores working-class values across the Anglosphere. Since we share many of those values, I thought you might be interested in what Olsen has to say -

When I started to do this, I focused on American voters. But I soon realized that working-class voters exhibit similar traits in other countries as well. Ask an American working-class voter why he supports Democrats, and he or she is likely to say it’s because Democrats support “the little guy.” Reading about English voters in Claire Berlinski’s biography of Margaret Thatcher, There Is No Alternative, I found the exact same phrase used by English miners to describe their support for Labour. When I found the same phrase being used by Australian working-class voters to describe their attraction to the Australian Labour Party, I decided I needed to learn more.

So I reached out to Patrick Muttart, former chief of staff to Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper. Muttart is perhaps the world’s leading expert on working-class voters in English-speaking countries, having studied their behavior and attitudes not only in Canada but also in Britain, Australia, and America. He has found that in each country, working-class voters may form the base for successful center-left governments but are crucially responsible for the rise of center-right leaders like Harper, Australia’s John Howard, and Margaret Thatcher.

He was kind enough to speak with me at length. He emphasized that working-class voters do not fit neatly on the traditional left-right continuum. They are fiscally conservative, wanting low rates of taxation and wanting government to live within its means, but economically populist, suspicious of trade, outsourcing, and high finance. They are culturally orthodox but morally moderate, in the sense that they don’t feel their lives will change much because of how social issues play out. They are patriotic and supportive of the military, but suspicious of foreign adventures.

Most importantly, they are modest in their aspirations for themselves. They do not aspire to be “type A business owners”; they want to go to work, do what’s asked of them, not have too much stress in their lives, and spend time with their families. They want structure and stability in their lives so that things are taken care of and they don’t have to worry.

Drawing on Muttart’s insights and my own thinking, I believe there are seven salient values or tendencies that are common to working-class voters across the decades. Call them the Seven Habits of the Working Class. They are:

Hope for the future

Fear of the present

Pride in their lives

Anger at being disrespected

Belief in public order

Patriotism

Fear of rapid change

Hope for the future:

One of the striking facts about America is how readily we believe that we can prosper through hard work and our own efforts. Polls show that Americans overwhelmingly believe this to be true. These polls also show there is a high correlation between the belief that one is in control of one’s life and the belief that one can prosper through one’s own efforts.

Working-class Americans share classic American beliefs very strongly. They value economic growth because they believe they personally benefit from it. Unlike Continental Europeans, working-class voters do not envy the rich. They believe that Bill Gates has earned his billions, and while they do not believe they can become billionaires, they believe their children can.

Fear of the present:

Working-class voters may believe that they and their children can move upward, but they are as or more motivated by their fear of moving downward. They recognize that their relative lack of education means they are at more risk of being laid off in downturns. Their relative lack of earning power means they find it harder to save for retirement, afford medical care, or pay for their children’s education. Their relative lack of specialized skills means they are more vulnerable to competition from unskilled immigrants and more likely to remain unemployed if they lose their job. This gnawing fear that everything they have built is at risk of falling apart is a central feature of their political identity.

Pride in their lives:

Working-class voters are generally not a despondent group. Life is harder for them in many ways, but they take pride in who they are. They are not “bitter people, clinging to religion or guns”; they celebrate their lives and crave respect from the educated and wealthy classes. They flock to politicians who show genuine respect for their lives, and turn on those who display contempt or disdain.

Anger at being disrespected:

This is the flip side of their pride. Working-class voters are very cognizant of their status in American life. They rarely occupy executive positions in their jobs and are consumers rather than producers of ideas. They feel keenly this relative lack of control over important features of their lives, and resent being ordered about as if they were merely pawns in someone else’s grand plan. They particularly dislike having their lives belittled as unsophisticated or inferior to the lives of educated or wealthy folk.

This anger can be expressed against big business, big government, or big anything. If working-class voters feel they are being treated as mere tools, they will react with anger whether the source of the treatment is an employer, a politician, or an academic.

Belief in public order:

Working-class voters rely more on the public order to provide a structure in their lives than do upper-class voters. They can’t afford private security services or retreat to homes with large yards far from unruly elements. They live closer together and in closer contact with crime. Accordingly, they place a high premium on effective police and fire services and greatly respect policemen and firemen.

Patriotism:

Working-class voters are highly patriotic. They love their country openly in ways that often seem odd and embarrassing to the educated class. They are likelier to express open support of and deference to the military (while simultaneously recognizing that “big military” is wasteful); their children volunteer for the military in much greater numbers than those of any other class. This is partly economic — learning a trade in the military is a better opportunity for them than for people who think they can graduate from college — but it is also genuinely patriotic. . .

Fear of rapid change:

Working-class voters recognize that they are less equipped to handle sudden changes; consequently, they value stability highly. They fear sudden recessions and distrust sudden changes in government programs. . . .

Now consider these values in the light of the primary features of liberal progressivism. Liberal progressives inherently crave rapid, transformational change; working-class voters abhor it. . . .The impatience that characterizes liberal progressivism often leads to the impression that its apostles feel contempt and disdain for those who disagree; working-class voters sense this and react against it. Liberal progressivism requires high tax rates, not only on the rich but also on the middle and working classes (overseas, this is accomplished via the VAT); working-class voters know this will choke off economic growth and increase the financial stress in their lives. Liberal progressivism typically displays less concern with public order and the institutions that provide public order; working-class voters opposed this in the 1960s and 1980s when it appeared that crime was rampant, and they remain sensitive to it to this day.

. . .Working-class voters crave order and stability. They value the degree of these things that the welfare state and public institutions have provided. They also respect entrepreneurs but have no desire to be forced to emulate them. They respect private economic activity, but fear that business will cast them aside in the pursuit of profits. A conservatism that conveys the message that we seek to abolish the welfare state or that people have value only if they enthusiastically participate as risk takers in a dynamic, turbulent economy will not appeal to them. . . Henry Olsen is vice president of the American Enterprise Institute and director of its National Research Initiative.

I would add faith to this list.

I share many working-class values, and I wonder at the arrogance of the chattering classes who could not survive a week without plumbers, electricians, builders, miners, factory workers and farm labourers - yet insist on making their lives a misery by imposing higher VAT, increasing immigration which threatens their jobs and their pay, turning a blind eye to crime, wasting the money they pay in tax, bringing the country to the edge of ruin with idiotic financial policies. . .and greasing the whole awful mess with their arrogance and contempt.

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