Aug 6, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Biden loses ground with working-class Black, Latino voters


Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

One of the main reasons President Biden is struggling in polls against former President Trump is his glaring underperformance with a constituency that has long been overwhelmingly Democratic: non-white voters without a college degree.

Why it matters: As Democrats have made major gains with suburban and upper-middle-class voters since Trump's political ascendance, they've been losing support among blue-collar voters.

  • Pundits have focused heavily in recent years on white, working-class voters who changed their allegiances from former President Obama to Trump — and have made up a key part of the new GOP coalition.
  • But Democrats have lost significant ground among their non-white counterparts as well, turning a political weakness into a major headache heading into 2024.
  • The slippage is occurring even as Trump, the GOP's standard bearer, is facing an unprecedented trifecta of indictments in the run-up to the 2024 election.

By the numbers: In the New York Times/Siena poll released last week, Biden failed to win majority support from non-white voters who hadn't graduated from college.

  • His lead over Trump with this once-heavily Democratic constituency is just 16 points (49%–33%).
  • In 2020, Biden dominated Trump with these voters, winning by an overwhelming 48-point margin, according to an analysis by the Democratic data firm Catalist.
  • Obama won non-white working-class voters by a whopping 67-point margin in 2012.

Between the lines: Many of these voters are moderates, not progressives — especially when it comes to the polarizing cultural issues that Republicans are increasingly focused on.

  • Biden, who ran as a pragmatist in the 2020 presidential race, understood the importance of the non-white moderate vote.
  • In 2020, he struggled badly in the nation's first two nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, where most of the Democratic voters were white progressives. His comeback began in South Carolina, a state with many Black moderate voters.

Go deeper: Ruy Teixeira, an elections analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, flagged several key issues dragging down Democratic support with non-white working-class voters, based on recent polling.

  • Teixeira notes that the progressive worldview that racism is systemic in our society, rather than coming from individuals with racist views, is broadly unpopular among the non-white working class. He adds that debates over transgender rights also divide Democrats along class and educational lines.
  • Crime is another major factor: Working-class non-white voters feel the impact of crime in their communities most directly and favor more punitive policies than their left-wing counterparts.
  • Non-white working-class voters are not satisfied with the state of the economy, despite some clear signs of improvement. Opposition to Biden's environmental agenda — the view that Democrats are pushing the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy too quickly — is a consistent theme with working-class voters of all backgrounds.

What they're saying: "In 2020, very few Democrats thought their support against the hated and presumably toxic Trump could possibly slip among nonwhite working-class voters. But it did. I wouldn't be so sure it couldn't happen again," Teixeira wrote.

  • "Possibly none of this will matter if Trump's third indictment makes a bigger dent in his standing than his first and second indictments did. But I would not count on it."

Reality check: Democrats held many of these same vulnerabilities heading into the 2022 midterms yet overperformed expectations last year.

  • One of the party's biggest concerns in 2022 was a feared further slippage of support among Hispanics. Yet Democrats managed to win 62% of the Hispanic vote, according to a Catalist analysis, the same share of the vote Biden received in 2020.

The bottom line: The fact that Biden's political fortunes aren't improving with a healthier economy is a sign that social and cultural issues still matter a lot in our politics.

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