Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Middle-Class Joe Needs Richie Rich

Throughout his long career, Joe Biden has always presented himself as "Middle-class Joe from Scranton." As president he has talked about his economic plan as a "blue-collar blueprint" and has talked endlessly about all the good-paying jobs that don't require a college degree that he has created (e.g., repairing America's crumbling infrastructure, working in factories making advanced semiconductor chips in Ohio and Arizona, etc.). At a union meeting last month, he noted that he looks at the world from Scranton while Donald Trump looks at it from Park Avenue.

But it is not working. Despite all the new jobs, blue-collar workers are still moving toward the Republicans. This is likely to have more to do with cultural issues (e.g., abortion, the border, trans girls on girls' sports teams, etc.) than with economics, but that's the way it is. Biden thinks that having a good-paying job should be more important to a worker than who plays on which high school sports team, but the workers don't seem to agree. It may be frustrating, but he has to go with the voters he's got, not the voters he would like.

It is not hopeless, of course. Biden can point to his slaying the evil inflation dragon and he's spending $25 million for a few weeks' ads in the swing states to do just that. But if a tank of gas costs more in Nov. 2024 than it did on Jan. 20, 2021, Donald Trump and the Republicans are going to blame Biden and that will work with some voters. Polls show that lower-income voters believe the U.S. is in a recession, even though it is not. What they want is for prices in 2024 to go back to what they were in 2020. Biden can't do that.

The consequence of the Democrats' dwindling support among blue-collar workers is that the blue team is now more and more dependent on upper-middle-class and above voters. Their concerns aren't those of blue-collar workers. For example, among upper-income college-educated women, the top issue is abortion. This inverts what you might expect, since if a well-paid female lawyer in Texas gets pregnant by accident, she can probably afford to fly to Albuquerque or San Diego for an abortion, whereas a factory worker in Texas might not be able to afford it. In other words, in theory, blue-collar workers should be much more upset about banning abortion than upper-middle-class women. But as has often been misattributed to Yogi Berra, in theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.

Similarly, among white college-educated adults, three-fifths said that if the accusations about Trump's role in the Jan. 6 coup attempt are true, he should be disqualified from running for office. Among noncollege whites, only 50% believe that.

So should Biden focus on getting more college-educated voters on board? He can, but math gets in the way. Noncollege voters outnumber college voters by three-to-two, so he needs really big gains among the latter to offset losses among the former. Also, the battleground states in the Upper Midwest have a disproportionate number of blue-collar workers. So a Richie-Rich-only campaign won't work.

Some Democratic strategists think that emphasizing concrete benefits for voters is more important than trying to talk about abstract ones. For voters in Columbus, OH, the $100 billion Intel plant being built there is big news, but in Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, not so much. On the other hand, rebates for buying energy-efficient appliances or solar panels or home insulation is of direct benefit to voters in every state and can save them hundreds of dollars. Medicare's new ability to negotiate drug prices is of interest to seniors who need those medicines. Still, if people aren't feeling better financially, it will be tough to win an economic argument. (V)

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