NPR Talk of the Nation

The Pennsylvania Primary and the Working-Class Vote

Ruy Teixeira joins NPR's Talk of the Nation host Neal Conan to discuss the Pennsylvania primary and the working-class vote.

NEAL CONAN: With us here in Studio 3A is Ruy Teixeira, a visiting fellow at Brookings Institution, co-author of the report "The Decline of the White Working Class and the Rise of a Mass Upper Middle Class." He's kind enough to be with us here. Thanks very much for coming in, nice to see you again.

RUY TEIXEIRA:
Great to be here.

NEAL CONAN: And, what are some of the common themes that we see around these working class voters that Sherry Linkon was talking to us about?

RUY TEIXEIRA: Well, I think Sherry touched on a number of them. I think one critical theme, obviously, for this election is their level of economic discontent and their sense that the economic ground has shifted underneath their feet, and they are sort of wondering where they are going to go in the future, where their kids are going to go, sort of, where their way of life is going to go.

This is a matter of great concern to these voters because the last, you know, actually the last several years, have not been kind to them. But more broadly, you can look back, you know, 35 years and say the last 35 years has not been very kind to them. This has been a period when America, by and large, has grown not as fast as it did and incomes have not risen as fast as they used to, but it's been particularly bad for these voters.

Anyone with less than a four-year college degree has really done rather poorly since about the middle 1970s. So, there's a real question in their minds of what America has in store for them in the future. And they are very interested to hear what politicians have to say about it. So far, it hasn't seemed to work out quite so well.

And the other side of it is really touched on by the controversy that you're referring to which is their sense of cultural traditionalism, their sense that, especially the Democrats, perhaps, seem out of touch with that at times. It seems like they don't respect their way of life. It seems like their social liberalism gets in the way of connecting to these voters and really hearing what they have to say and what their commitments and priorities really are and a sense of elitism on their part.

And that's really what, I think, Obama's getting slammed on this, you know, in general, and of course, obviously the McCain and Clinton campaigns have some interest in pushing this, but it did give them an opening to raise this issue and argue that, in fact, he is elitist. And Democrats, if they wish to get away from this, they have to adopt - I think it's a little bit unfair to the remark once you look at it in context.

But nevertheless, the perception was there particularly, I think the stuff about guns and about religion. I mean, can't you, like, own a gun and go to church and not be clinging to it? Because you know, your economic way of life is deteriorating. Again, I don't think that's what he meant. But that's how it's being interpreted. And that's where the discussion is.

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