Sometime over the last 30 years, working-class white men deserted the Democratic Party. For a long time we puzzled over this mass exodus. Many observers pinned it on the irresistible seduction of Ronald Reagan. David Paul Kuhn blamed the general wimpiness of the Democrats, and Thomas Frank blamed just general stupidity in What’s the Matter With Kansas? Over time we became less interested in why and just dismissed these white men as the most “terrified, lopsided, confused demographic in all of America,” as Mark Morford recently put it.
This election cycle we finally have a decent replacement for the working-class white man. The single woman voter—especially the one up for grabs, who is more likely to have children—is basically at exactly the economic and psychological place the married, white, working-class man was in the ’70s. She tends to be working-class, the main provider for her family, and not all that hostile to the idea of government help. In recent focus groups in Virginia and Ohio, women were asked what they thought of Mitt Romney’s dismissal of the “47 percent.” Married women described it as “honest” and agreed that “too many people are wanting the help of government.” Single women sided with the 47 percent, saying they were just people who wanted to “work their way up and be better.”
This is what a union guy in Kansas would have felt in 1975 and what would have led him to vote Democratic before everything changed, and as Kuhn put it, the Republican party seemed to “own masculinity itself.” So which way will the single woman lean? You’d think that she would flee the party of masculinity, unless it was happening at the Sigma Chi house (joke, friends, don’t scream). But as the white men already showed us, people don’t always vote for what we see as their obvious interests. The women may be more socially inclined to Democrats, but they also may be offended by, say, the Obama campaign’s hipster portrayal of your average woman as wholly and utterly dependent on various Obama assistance programs from birth to death, especially considering that they themselves are making it on their own. They may also be surprisingly attached to the idea of marriage and traditional family values despite the obvious reality in their own house (the Bristol Palin effect). Democrats, tread lightly, and consider yourself warned.