After President Trump’s well-received address to Congress, all eyes turned to the Democrats’ rebuttal.
Surprisingly, the Democrats did not tap one of their high-profile rising stars such as Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, or Kristen Gillibrand to speak directly to millions of Americans about the party’s opposing vision. Instead, 72 year-old former Governor Steve Beshear of Kentucky, a state President Trump carried by nearly 30 points, delivered the rebuttal from a diner.
As noted in the chart below, the Democrat Party’s image among white voters has been in steep decline over the last decade. Accelerating their decline is their standing among the white working class, a group identified in numerous post mortems of the 2018 campaign as a key coalition in President Trump’s victory. Elliot County, Kentucky may be the best example of the seismic shifts happening among this demographic.
A rural area that twice voted for Barack Obama, and every Democrat presidential candidate before him, Elliot County voters showed up to the polls in record numbers to support Donald Trump. Former Governor Steve Beshear represented the Democrats’ first attempt to try to win these voters back. A recent WSJ/NBC News survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research Associates provides some insight into where Democrats currently stand among this key group.
For the purposes of this analysis, I define the “white working class” as non-Hispanic whites who consider their economic circumstances as poor or working class. In the survey conducted February 18th through the 22nd, respondents were asked if they approved or disapproved of the job the two parties were doing in Congress.
When asked about the Republican Party, working class whites had a net positive view: nearly half (48%) approved of the job Republicans are doing and 42% disapproved. When the same group was asked about the Democrat Party, a strong majority (60%) disapproved while only 3 in 10 people approved.
Additionally, the white working class is more optimistic about whether President Trump will actually bring change in the direction of the country. A majority (57%) of Americans believe it is likely President Trump will bring real change while 41% believe he is somewhat or not likely to bring change. Of those who think he will bring change, 63% believe it will be the right kind of change.
Among the white working class, this number is even higher: 63% believe he will bring change and 65% said it will be the right kind of change. Only 34% of the white working class expressed that he won’t affect change.
In short, Democrats have a ways to go to earn back the support of working class whites, and the Democrat Party’s pick to be the face of the party Tuesday night may be their recognition of that. Without making gains among this group, they risk losing seats in former Democrat strongholds like Congressman Courtney’s seat in CT-02, Congressman Walz’s seat in MN-01 and Congressman DeFazio’s seat in OR-05.
Polling for The Wall Street Journal and NBC News is conducted by Republican pollster Bill McInturff and Democratic pollster Fred Yang. This analysis is my own and does not necessarily reflect the views of NBC News, The Wall Street Journal, or Hart Research Associates.