Policy think-tank Demos has just released the results of an in-depth investigation of how progressives can engage simultaneously around race and class in ways that strengthen social solidarity, reduce division and scapegoating, and create a viable foundation for policy victories. Their study contributes to the debate over an electoral strategy to defeat Trump. The study argues that there is no need to choose between appealing only to white working class voters or to voters of color; it is possible to target both and win.
The study, Race-Class Narratives (concise summary here), employs a methodology that uses a sample representative of the national adult population to identify base (23%), persuadables (59%) and opposition (18%) to a progressive agenda. The base essentially is the segment of the population who thinks that there is too little attention paid to race and racial issues, that wealth is based on (unequal) opportunity (not hard work) and who want government to create more opportunity (not get out of the way).
Persuadable adults hold contradictory views on race. A sizable majority agree with the notion that “focusing on race doesn’t fix anything and may even make things worse,” while also agreeing that “focusing on race is necessary to move forward toward greater equality.” In this context, the study’s favored message, “Working Peoples,” evokes race “when articulating an agenda to make life better for working people, whether white, Black or brown.”
The study is highly nuanced and well worth a deep dive, especially in designing electoral campaigns, where there is a need to attract voters of all races. There are also findings particular to African American and Latino respondents and around specific issues. For example, the research indicates that base and persuadable adults strongly support policies to end discrimination, expand Medicare, overhaul our criminal justice system, and create a fair immigration process.
In addition to the national study, Demos conducted a similar study in California, adopting it to the state’s more progressive identity and, for example, testing a message on Racial Justice that the national campaign did not. Of interest, Racial Justice performed strongly with the base and alienated the opposition, especially when delivered by an African American woman. However, it had lower ratings with persuadables, who found it less convincing than other messages. The version delivered by an African American woman did not beat the opposition message with persuadables.
Additional studies were conducted in Ohio and Minnesota. In Minnesota, the investigators partnered with the progressive coalition, Our Minnesota Future, who canvassed 800 households, half of them people of color. The aim was to test if a narrative that avoided race or one that used race to explain economic inequality would more effectively beat the real Republican message. This small regional study suggested that Democrats and progressives can making gains with white voters and voters of color by tackling racism and economic inequality simultaneously. The key was to make explicit how racism oppresses people of color while serving as a divisive weapon for a greedy few.
Partners in the nationwide survey with Demos were Anat Shenker-Osorio of ASO Communications and Ian Henry Lopez, author of Dog Whistle Politics.
Ellen Kaiser, who wrote this review, is a long-time radical activist and writer.