What are working-class Americans so afraid of?

There are many reasons to vote in a democratic society.

We have been hearing that Barack Obama has had a difficult time with securing the white working class vote - the blue collar folks. A quick trip into the blogosphere and we see the ugly head of American racism. MSNBC, NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN - check out the comments on some of the articles pertaining to Obama and we see something quite ugly; people spewing hatred, likening Obama to a terrorist, a racist, someone who will bring this country to it’s knees. The truth has been spun so far out of whack it’s hard to muck around through the articles and find some semblence of truth - or what you believe to be true.

Here on the SDMB we have had heated battles over who is the better candidate, who will win what state and by how much etc…etc…

I’d like to address what people on the SDMB see as Fear in a particular cultural sub-group the working class. I get the sense from my own experiences that people fear another terrorist attack, a war with Iran, a crumbling economy, $5 gas, home forclosure and the list goes on.

Seeking out the seemingly infinite knowledge base represented here on the SDMB - what do YOU think the American working class is afraid of in this election cycle? Do you think people fear a president with the middle name Hussein? Why the staunch divide in working class blue collar voters and other voters?

It’s not really a “fear” thing. Most of the people who are saying Obama’s a terrorist are Republicans muddying the waters. But a lot of working class Democrats really like the Clintons, especially Bill. He grew up poor, he seemed to actually care about working class people and treat them with respect. And Hillary is going around talking about stuff like job loss and the economy.

With Obama, on the other hand, he doesn’t have a natural connections, and when he says stuff like how the working class is bitter and clings to religion, and when his pastor says that the government gave blacks AIDS, that doesn’t help.

White working class voters.

In a thread a year or so ago, many of the staunch Democrats here insisted that racism was confined to the Republican party, and anyone who wouldn’t vote for Obama because of his race wouldn’t vote for a Democrat anyway. I remember asking if I was tapping into a tired, old stereotype when I posited that working class, union type white Democrats might not be so keen an voting for a Black president. And that, I think, is what we are seeing here. In the PA primary exit polls, something like 1 in 5 Democratic voters said race was a factor in voting.


So some of the working class voters fear an African American man becoming the commander in chief because of his skin tone. That doesn’t appear like something that is easily overcome…However, taken as a whole Obama has done quite well with working class folks west of the Mississippi.

It’s not just working class whites. It’s also Mexican Americans and East Asian Americans. Here in Cali, Obama lost both groups by big margins. Asians in particular, 3 to 1. A lot of Latinos polled here frankly admitted that they would never vote for a black person.

Basically, people who are less secure in their social and economic status as Americans (with the notable exception of black Americans), oppose Obama. This is partly a fear of the new and unfamiliar, and partly a need for someone else to be the outsider. If you’re something of an outsider yourself, it’s comforting to have a class of untouchables below you on the socio economic and political ladder.

Obama’s credentials - Harvard Law Review, 20 years in IL politics, endorsements from hordes of experienced, battle tested politicians - dont’ mean all that much to people who don’t have the education and experience to interpret them properly. Your average uppper Midwestern heart surgeon probably reads Obama’s history and sees him as “one of us”. Working class white folks, on the other hand, may even resent Obama’s credentials because “he thinks he’s better than we are.”


Well, maybe racism is a bit more entrenched in the east. I don’t know. Also, I see that you did mention “White” in your OP. I missed that the first time.

Still, let’s not forget that Obama is getting almost all of the African-American vote. It’s hard to believe that many of those voters aren’t voting for him just because he is Black. But the thing is, 90% of Blacks vote Democratic anyway in the presidential election, so unless he gets a lot more Blacks to vote that usual, that doesn’t really help him much. I think odds are he can do that.

In this primary cycle, race seems to be the biggest factor in states more than 6% and less than 17% black.

As far as I can tell it’s garden variety racism. What else could it be? The two candidates have basically similar platforms.

Despite repeated assertions by many who desperately want it to be true, race is most definitely a factor in the decision of some Democratic primary voters to vote for Hillary over Obama.

I think it is a good sign of the progress we’ve made as a society that it has been as muted a factor as it has–Obama’s successes would be unthinkable just a few election cycles ago in my opinion.

I don’t think it’s necessarily a matter of fear that drives the union, blue-collar workers to support Clinton over Obama. Certainly some “fear” of a liberal elitist black guy who has no real similarities or experience dealing with blue-collar whites is in play.

But I think union voters especially vote very much based on two general principles:

  1. What has this person done for me

  2. What will they do for me in the future

I think Hillary and really the Clintons in general have a stronger base with labor. A lot of these blue collar workers feel like the Clintons have already done things for them–and they feel like Hillary is more likely to do things for them in the future. Why? To a degree (and Obama supporters will likely argue this point), it is because Hillary has simply done a better job of courting this segment of the voting population.

Our voters may not be geniuses, but they all realize both Obama and Hillary aren’t blue collar people, they know that they live in a very different world than them. But Hillary has ran her campaign and conducted herself in such a way that blue collar workers trust her more than they trust Obama. Building trust is complex and a myriad of factors comes into play.

Race is one of many factors. Obama’s perceived elitism is another factor. Obama’s crazy former pastor is another factor.

Unlike a lot of the college kids who don’t really appreciate their stake in society yet (because by and large they aren’t trying to survive paycheck to paycheck) and the upper class professionals who likewise aren’t living paycheck to paycheck, blue collar workers are going to vote almost entirely based on the direct benefit a candidate can give them. Whereas college kids and upscale professionals will vote based on a broader spectrum of “ideals” (will this candidate do things that I think are ethically right, or good for society as a whole?), basically because they can afford to vote that way. But when you’re living paycheck to paycheck you are most likely going to vote based on one thing: Who is going to keep my job secure, who is going to help me stay afloat. Pretty much any other concerns will be secondary.

I’m assuming you aren’t saying voters literally are afraid of brown skin. So can I request that we retire this metaphor or whatever the precise term is for this expression? Not just because its hackneyed as all get out, but because it oversimplifies the subject. Racism is a lot more complex that melanin phobia, you know?

Many white working-class Americans are afraid of the same thing they’ve always been afraid of when it comes to black people. A perceived take-over. Loss of control. Loss of self-confidence and pride obtained vicariously through whites who actually have power and money. Obama as CiC = Blacks running things and taking things away from them. Claiming things that have always belonged to white people. A black president would herald a shift in a status quo that has always had white men on top, and that’s scary to them. Give the black man the White House, and it will be harder for them to see the country as “white” as they have been for hundreds of years. Hillary might be a woman, but she has a strong man behind her. And she’s white. Women aren’t outsiders in the same way that black people are.

Those are just my thoughts.

Let me just nitpick that I’m not sure these folks are afraid of a Black “commander in chief” so much as a Black “president”. I certainly wasn’t thinking of the president’s role as CiC in my first post.

I posit that many working class people have a sense of ‘politics’ based on their experience with the local level. Whoever gets elected starts doling out jobs and contracts and favors to ‘their people’, whoever that is. Experience has taught them that white politicians are willing to make a commitment to diversity (either honestly or disingenuously). When it comes to blacks in power in local government, the white, latinos, asians, etc., perceive that blacks take care of their own, but don’t make the same commitment to diversity.

It’s the old zero sum game at work.

Sexism. :rolleyes:

People like to vote for someone who they think “gets them.” A working class guy wants to see someone with a mug of beer, who watches sports, and who understands what it takes to put food on the table.

Now, some back of the envelope demographics:
Only 30% have a college degree. That leaves a LOT of voters who are NOT formally educated, who did NOT go to top schools (and certainly not to graduate school).

Remember Bush vs. Gore & Kerry? Bush was a guy that “Joe SixPack” would have a beer with? Guess what - that mentality STILL exists. People want a President who gets their issues, who “feels their pain,” etc.

This can come across as racist, but it is also classist and sexist as well. I think having Obama v Clinton has helped, since it forces people to choose between sexism and racism in their thoughts. Clinton has succeeded in convincing the blue collar union boys that she gets their issues - Obama has not.

Lots of things. Obama appears to me to be overly idealistic and naive. Hillary impresses me as having more political street sense. Of the two, I think she’s less likely to be taken advantage of in foreign affairs, for instance. Obama reminds me of Jimmy Carter, an ineffectual president if ever there was one.

I think racism is definitely a factor. I was shocked to discover that several people in m extended family who are generally knee jerk Democrats who vote across the board ad Democrats won’t vote for Obama because he is black. They are frantic for Hillary to win at this point. One of my aunts was actually in hospital recently from the stress of this campaign and what it’s doing to her nerves…as ridiculous as that is when you think about it.

However, I think there is another factor at work here as well. I think Obama is perceived (by the blue collar types) as being a bit of an elitist. The Clinton’s on the other hand (and Bush to some degree) have been able to portray themselves as ‘Just folks’, someone that the blue collar people can identify with…even if the reality is that they too are pretty much elitists, if not in attitude then in upbringing and association.


They’re gonna have Hillary on stage with a plug of chaw in her cheek, soon as she can do it without puking her guts out.

As I see, Blue collar workers have been consistenlty screwed, by every party in power, since 1970 or so. The trade restrictions that protected blue-collar jobs )from foreign competition) are gone now…and the Chinese and koreans,plus Jpanese transplants, are rapdily destroying the US auto industry. True, we now get cheap goods from china-which isn’t much good if you don’t have a job.
all of this has been concealed by the willingness of the Chinese to accept american IOUs-now that the dollar is collapsing, this farce cannot keep going.
But tha’s OK, we can all be divorce lawyers, or work at McDonald’s!

“Who is going to keep my job secure,…” They are sadly ignorant if they believe HRC is going to help them keep their jobs. Or any President, Obama included nothing is a simple as the candidates make things sound. Obama does the best job of painting things somewhat realistically.

HRC is not Joe Sixpack, not even close. She’s married to a former two term president of the most powerful nation on earth, you can’t get more elite than that.

I don’t know how you can say this with a straight face, when Hillary voted for the Iraq war.

Clearly, she’s already shown that she can damn well “be taken advantage of in foreign affairs” – in this case, by the POTUS.