Polling Working-Class White Americans

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Sept. 20 2012 10:39 AM

It's Not All God, Guns, and the GOP for Working-Class Whites

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A worker at Gregory Industries watches as Mitt Romney tours a factory before a campaign rally

Photograph by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

White, working-class Americans get a more nuanced look in a new survey out today from the Public Religion Research Institute. The big takeaway? It's not all guns, God, and the GOP for one of the most targeted demographics of this election season.

The survey defines the group—which makes up about 36 percent of all Americans—as "non-Hispanic white Americans without a four-year college degree who hold non-salaried jobs," That group is mainly compared to white, college-educated Americans, over the course of the PRRI results.

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Mitt Romney has a double-digit lead over Obama with working-class white voters (48 percent vs. 35 percent), but things get more complicated when broken down a bit more. Romney fares the best among southern voters and men in the group, but has no significant lead over the incumbent among Catholics, women, or nonsouthern members of the group.

Perhaps tellingly, neither candidate is particularly well-liked by the demographic: Just 45 percent said they had a favorable opinion of Romney, only one percentage point more than said the same thing about Obama. By contrast, George W. Bush had a favorability rating of 51 percent in the survey.

Here are a few more takeaways from the survey:

  • 70 percent of white, working-class Americans agree that the economic system in the United States unfairly favors wealthy people. Eight-in-10 believe that outsourced jobs are either somewhat or very responsible for economic instability in the United States.
  • While the demographic was no more likely than white, college-educated Americans to say that the Tea Party movement shared their values (34 percent vs. 31 percent), they're half as likely to support Occupy Wall Street (28 percent vs. 16 percent). By contrast, the two groups had about equal support for the labor movement (31 percent vs. 29 percent).
  • Just 1-in-20 cite abortion or same-sex marriage as the most important issue for their vote. And the group is divided on those issues, with about half opposing same-sex marriage. One-half of those surveyed also responded that abortion should be legal in most or all instances.

PRRI's main goal seems to be to show that white, working-class voters don't conform to all the stereotypes often assigned to them, and the survey delivers some pretty striking examples of that. On the other hand, some long-attributed conservative characteristics of the group did show up as more common beliefs among the demographic.

Sixty percent of white, working-class respondents believe that discrimination against whites is just as big of a problem as discrimination against blacks in the U.S; 57 percent believe that illegal immigrants taking jobs are to blame for our economic woes; and 70 percent believe that God has given the U.S. a "special place in human history."

You can read the full results here, which span a number of topics. For the sake of complicating the conversation on a group generally talked about in politics as a monolithic block of conservatism, it's worth a look.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.

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