Who Lost the Working Class?

Who Lost the Working Class?

A funny thing happened on the way to the election–here's what it portends.


As the Democrats struggle to define a strategy for dealing with the Bush Administration, an intense debate has emerged between centrists and populists over the reasons for the party's loss of the White House in the 2000 election. At its heart lies the interpretation of the widespread rejection of Al Gore by white working-class voters, a rejection that reached landslide proportions among white working-class men. Despite Gore's assertion of "populist" themes and proposals, more than 60 percent of non-college educated and nonaffluent white men and a majority of similar working-class women gave their votes to George W. Bush. (Although white women workers rendered Bush a slim majority, had male workers voted as did female, Gore would have easily won the election. Attempts to understand the rejection of Gore, therefore, largely focus on the attitudes of white working-class men.) Although the centrists and populists reach substantially different conclusions, they do agree on two central points. First, Gore's positions on the major specific issues in the campaign–healthcare, education, tax policy and others–were substantially more popular with the voters than those of Bush. As Stanley Greenberg, Gore's pollster, noted in an analysis done for the Campaign for America's Future, "If the election were run on message alone, Al Gore would be President with a comfortable majority of the popular vote."

Second, the most important obstacles future progressive candidates will have to overcome relate to the moral and social "values" of American workers and to their distrust of Washington and "big government." While the 2000 election was influenced by other factors, such as the legacy of the Clinton Administration and Gore's performance as a candidate, the values of white workers and their distrust of government appear likely to have the greatest continuing influence on American politics.

What the postelection analyses do not do, however, is address the question of how a progressive candidate can overcome these obstacles. Although a large number of opinion polls and focus groups have examined the public's views on values and their hostility to government in recent years, they cannot effectively explain where individual issues fit within a person's overall worldview or how values and issues combine to influence the choice of a political candidate. There are, however, alternative approaches within the social sciences better suited to answering questions of this kind. In the 1950s and early 1960s, such research examined whether workers were becoming "middle class." When Governor George Wallace gained substantial support among white workers in the 1968 presidential election–and clashes between peace demonstrators and "hard hats" gave rise to a popular image of all workers as deeply reactionary "Archie Bunkers"–research responded by trying to look behind the stereotypes and understand the forces shaping workers' attitudes. Some of these studies, like Joseph Howell's Hard Living on Clay Street and E.E. LeMasters's Blue-Collar Aristocrats, were based on prolonged observation of life in working-class neighborhoods. Others, like Robert Botsch's We Shall Not Overcome: Populism and Southern Blue-Collar Workers, analyzed extended interviews with dozens of subjects.

Yet when working-class voters once again defected to the Republicans in 1980, giving rise to the category "Reagan Democrats," researchers still seemed baffled. There was not even a generally agreed-upon way of thinking about the group. Were they "blue collar," "working class," "middle class" or "middle American"? And what was the link between these labels and their political behavior?

The most coherent and systematic answer to these questions came in 1984, with sociologist David Halle's America's Working Man, a detailed, seven-year study of factory and community life in a large New Jersey chemical plant.

Halle recognized that only by studying the lives of the men he lived and worked with in far greater detail than previous studies had done could the link between the conditions of their daily life and their political views be determined. As a result, Halle photographed and described street blocks and individual houses. In the plant, Halle described specific departments, work areas and individual jobs, including sketches and diagrams of specific areas.

This level of precision allowed Halle to discern patterns and relationships too subtle to be noted by more general studies. He concluded that workers' "consciousness" is actually best understood by viewing it as composed of three overlapping perspectives.

The first is rooted in the world of work. Halle identified five basic characteristics of "blue collar" jobs in the factory: physical labor, a relatively dangerous or dirty environment, boring or routine tasks, close supervision and limited opportunities for upward mobility. Although some white-collar jobs share some of these features, Halle found that this cluster of characteristics did produce a distinct social viewpoint and identity. Although the men did not usually define themselves as being working class, they were virtually unanimous in describing themselves as "workingmen" with problems and interests common to others like themselves.

Although this occupationally based class consciousness is often seen as limited to the approximately 20 percent of American workers employed in traditional manufacturing, it actually influences a far larger group. There are almost 19 million white men employed in manual, blue-collar jobs in America today, in contrast to about 16 million white men in managerial and professional occupations and another 9 million in lower-level white-collar jobs. Thus, about 45 percent of employed white men still work in essentially manual jobs rather than white-collar occupations.

This occupationally based identity as "workingmen" does create a distinct perspective. Ronald Reagan, for example, was widely viewed as antilabor by workers in the chemical factory, despite his popularity in other areas. However, when Halle turned to studying workers' attitudes related to their neighborhoods and communities, he found that this working-man's perspective did not carry over from the workplace. He noted that neighbors on the streets where workers lived were generally not all blue collar but rather a mixture of blue and white collar, including, in one typical case, a storekeeper, an elementary-school teacher, a real estate agent, a gas station owner and a salesman. Workers also did not see their neighborhoods as distinctly working class but rather as situated somewhere "in the middle" between slum or ghetto areas below and "nice" or "fancy" neighborhoods above.

In consequence, it was entirely reasonable for these workers to view themselves as "middle class" or "middle American" when thinking about their homes, neighborhoods and communities. Thus, what appeared to be two distinct identities, "workingman" and "middle American," Halle revealed as different perspectives between which workers would shift, depending on the context and situation.

Halle identified a third perspective that also influenced workers' political views–a national identity they felt as Americans but one that was closely linked with a populist identity as "the people" or "ordinary citizens" whose interests were often opposed to that of national elites from business, the government or academia–elites who were seen as "running the show" or "calling the shots" over various aspects of their lives.

One task Halle did not directly attempt, however, was to define the basic values that workers held and to determine how those values affected their political views. In the national political debate during the 1970s and 1980s, "middle American values," "mainstream values" and "family values" were frequently invoked and were generally defined to include both support for the work ethic and traditional family norms as well as a range of conservative or quasi-religious views on a wide range of moral issues. In many such discussions, it was often simply assumed that these represented key "working-class values" as well. But this obscured the more important question–was there actually a set of values that could be considered distinctly "working class" in character, that represented a distinctly working-class worldview?

One of the most sophisticated recent attempts to answer this question appeared in the recent study The Dignity of Working Men, by Princeton sociologist Michèle Lamont. She recognized that asking workers to choose their most important values from a prepared list would essentially force their replies into a predetermined mold that had little to do with their real-world thoughts and feelings. Lamont used instead open-ended and nondirective questions. She interviewed 150 blue-collar workers, black and white, in the United States and in France, and compared them with middle-class people in both countries. Her questions asked workers to describe people similar to them and people who were different, people they liked and disliked, and those to whom they felt superior or inferior. Follow-up questions probed why they felt as they did, spontaneously eliciting a complex pattern of moral judgments and values. Both work and family did indeed emerge among the blue-collar workers' core values. But the real significance lay in how those were perceived.

For the middle-class American men Lamont studied, work meant a profession or career, a frequently stimulating and often fulfilling sphere of activity that had to be balanced against the demands of family in daily life. For the working-class men, in contrast, work was basically "just a job." For some, it might be interesting or challenging (as it is for many construction workers, for example), but, even for them, it was their family life and not work that provided the basic meaning and satisfactions of life.

And central to workers' vision of their family was the constant difficulty of supporting and preserving it in an often hostile environment. Lamont's workers repeatedly described having to "fight tooth and nail" to get where they are, of constantly having to "fight for what's ours." When asked to name their heroes, many of Lamont's workers chose their own fathers because "he held the family together" during hard times.

Seen from this perspective, work was viewed in two distinct ways. On one level, it was a sacrifice, a physically exhausting, hard and sometimes dangerous sacrifice that a worker made on behalf of his family. Yet on another level, these same qualities made a worker's mastery of the difficulties and challenges of his job a tremendous source of pride and personal worth.

But while they valued work itself, blue-collar workers had a much lower opinion of ambition and success. In Lamont's interviews, workers repeatedly said that to them, money is not the most important thing in life, that the quest they see middle-class people conducting for higher status seems to them unending and to offer little satisfaction.

In fact, while these workers generally did not feel resentment toward the middle-class managers and professionals above them–saying, for example, that "I can't knock anyone for succeeding"–their view of them was far from admiring. Middle-class people were "cold, shallow"; they did not really enjoy themselves; they were "worrying all the time," sacrificing their family, "missing all of life" and living "with blinders on."

Moreover, these workers sensed both a profound snobbishness and a dishonesty among the middle-class people they encountered. They perceived middle-class people as "snotty," "snobby" and constantly ready to "look down at people." They were "two faced," "phonies," "show-offs" and willing to "screw people to get what they want."

Workers saw themselves, in contrast, as more authentic and sincere and aware of the important things in life. They placed friends and friendship above success and money; and, along with work, family and friends, they saw honesty and good character as fundamental values. They admired people who were "honest," "straightforward," "no BS," "stand-up guys," who would "be there" for someone else in times of adversity and "carry their weight" in the struggles of daily life. As a value, they saw strength of character as far more important than success.

This description of the core "values" of working Americans is startlingly different from the usual media portrayal. Yet it is the perspective that spontaneously emerges as workers simply describe the kinds of people and attitudes of which they approve or disapprove. In fact, this distinct combination of viewing work, family, friends and good character as central values in life, while according a much lower value to wealth and ambition, is instantly familiar to trade unionists and others who work directly with American workers as an accurate picture of the pattern of distinctly "working-class values" that American workers actually hold. It appears unfamiliar only because, for so long, the term "values" has been applied instead to a fixed set of conservative positions on a certain group of moral and social issues.

A significant number of American workers do in fact hold traditional or conservative views on many specific moral and social issues, but that does not make them working-class rather than middle-class values, nor are these views necessarily shared by all or even most American workers. Lamont's research, for example, shows that only 25 percent of her sample could be accurately described as deeply religious. Equally, opinion surveys have shown that the attitudes of individual blue-collar workers vary widely among different "family values" issues and that blue-collar attitudes have also become significantly more tolerant over time on a wide range of topics. Most important, Lamont's research dramatically demonstrates that the values that workers can accurately be said to share as a group–those that can properly be considered specifically "working-class values"–are not only not objectionable but are, in fact, profoundly admirable.

The key question that arises from Lamont's work is to determine how these values influence workers' thinking about specific social and political issues. While focus groups are often used to gain an understanding of what a group of people is thinking, they are not designed to systematically study the process by which opinions are derived.

One approach is presented in Talking Politics, by William Gamson. Gamson drew together 188 participants into thirty-seven small groups and presented each with newspaper clippings and editorial cartoons on four political issues. Gamson documented how these blue-collar people evaluated the materials and, working as a group, tried to draw conclusions. What Gamson found was that working people tend to blend three distinct kinds of information in analyzing an issue–information from the media, personal experience and popular wisdom or "common sense"–and to insist that conclusions had to make sense in terms of all three approaches. This is quite unlike the route of many educated people, who prefer to rely entirely on the conclusions of specialists (for example, economists or scientists). Moreover, Gamson found that popular wisdom and common sense are conduits through which workers bring their values to bear on political issues. Statements described as "common sense" are in fact often expressions of basic values.

The most dramatic recent example of how this process affects actual politics occurred during the first debate between Bush and Gore. Although most commentary focused on Gore's physical appearance and mannerisms, a significant difference also existed between the way the two candidates presented their ideas. While Gore presented a barrage of facts and figures in support of his proposals, Bush frequently replied with simple statements to the effect that the surplus belonged to the people, not to Washington and that he believed in the people, not the government.

While many liberals perceived these remarks as superficial clichés, subsequent opinion polls showed that viewers tended to see Bush as someone who had values similar to theirs, while Gore was perceived as a politician who would "say anything to get elected." Gore's heavy reliance on facts and figures, and his failure to engage Bush's aphorisms with equally clear statements of the "common sense" behind his proposals, was perceived by many blue-collar workers as reflecting an absence of solid underlying values.

The massive rejection of Gore by blue-collar workers on Election Day, however, was not due solely to a failure to communicate his views effectively. It also reflected a profound distrust of government programs or activism of any kind. Democratic strategists were well aware of the massive suspicion and distrust many workers feel toward the Democratic Party in particular, and workers' perception that it caters to a wide range of liberal interest groups but rarely pays attention to them. But what was not so obvious was that this antagonism predated the late 1960s and actually began in the 1950s, when American workers' view of themselves underwent a subtle but profound transformation.

Two books that help to explain the collapse of the relationship between blue-collar workers and the Democratic Party are Samuel Freedman's The Inheritance and Lillian Rubin's Families on the Fault Line. Freedman's book follows three working-class families through three generations, from the early 1900s to the Reagan years. Rubin's book analyzes extensive personal interviews she conducted in the early 1990s with 162 working-class families.

By focusing on a few individuals, Freedman, a former New York Times reporter, is able to show in extraordinary detail the way in which the New Deal reforms improved the lives of ordinary Americans. For one family a WPA job meant not just an escape from poverty but from a sense of shame and humiliation as well. For plumber Silvio Burigo, the Wagner Act revitalized the trade-union movement and launched his career as a union official.

It was not only materially that blue-collar workers benefited from the New Deal. In the 1930s working people had a positive image in the national culture, and working-class values were generally treated with respect. From the poetry of Carl Sandburg to films like The Grapes of Wrath, ordinary people were portrayed as equal in intelligence to the ambitious and the wealthy, and morally superior as well. Manual labor was shown as a dignified occupation and those who did it as capable of living a rich and rewarding life. Within the growing trade-union movement, trade unionism was seen not as a device for insuring individual economic security but as a great moral and social crusade. As Silvio Burigo's local union paper proclaimed, "This great influx of workers into the unions of America is one of the great inspirations of our time…. It is emancipation before our eyes." In national politics blue-collar workers were respected as the heart of the "Roosevelt coalition," an alliance that also included racial and ethnic minorities, middle-class liberals and significant sections of the rural population in a coalition for social progress and reform.

In the 1950s, however, all this changed. On TV shows, leading men wore suits and came home from offices, not factories, while the occasional blue-collar protagonists who did appear were treated as buffoons. Being a "success" in America came to mean being something superior to a factory worker, and those who could not find upward mobility from manual labor bore a subtle stamp of inadequacy and failure.

The consequences of this redefinition were profound. For one thing, it caused American workers to lose the conviction that the way to improve conditions was through collective action and to internalize the notion that they were individually responsible for their economic fortunes. If they were not better off or more secure, it was entirely their own fault. Rubin, both a sociologist and a practicing psychotherapist, is extraordinarily deft at capturing the subtle ways this negative self-image and sense of failure affected the inner lives of blue-collar workers.

At the same time, the trade-union movement changed from a crusade to an institution, one rarely mentioned outside the business pages of the national press. The men like Burigo who ran its local branches found themselves increasingly isolated; virtually every new plumber's apprentice in the apprenticeship program Burigo ran for the local union was the son of a close friend or relative.

Finally, the redefinition of workers as part of the middle class during the 1950s made specifically working-class problems disappear from the national agenda. As Rubin notes, "If the popular political language denies the very existence of a sector of the population, their needs aren't likely to be taken into account." She also makes the critical point that the redefinition of workers as middle class also "renders them and the particular problems that beset working-class life unnamed, therefore invisible, often even to [the workers] themselves."

This ideological transformation would have had tremendous long-term consequences under any circumstances. But during the mid-1960s two major social trends converged to place working-class America at the heart of a sociological "perfect storm."

On the one hand, the black protest movement began to target job discrimination and segregation in housing. Freedman is extraordinarily evenhanded in portraying the gradual collision between the insular world of Silvio Burigo's apprenticeship program and the dedicated black activists like the ex-Marine and son of a steelworker, Earl Forte–a collision neither man desired but neither could control. Freedman continually steps back and describes the larger social forces at work as he depicts the increasing wave of blue-collar incomprehension and then anger at the ghetto riots, growing welfare rolls and deterioration of public housing.

At the same time, an equally profound antagonism was growing between blue-collar workers and the college educated, as workers' children fought and died in Vietnam while the college-aged children of the middle class remained largely exempt. When college students then became the leading force in the growing peace movement, it seemed to workers a betrayal of their own children, who were risking their lives on the frontlines.

Many analyses during the 1980s and 1990s traced the way these events and others combined to convince workers that their needs and interests were under assault from liberals above and blacks below; from pressures for affirmative action, busing and the extension of welfare benefits, on the one hand, and from the demands of middle-class-led social movements, including women's rights, gay rights and the peace and environmental movements on the other. By the 1980s there was no longer much debate that these measures and movements, which workers identified as coming from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, had significantly alienated them from the party as a whole.

This conflict was by no means inevitable. In many European countries social welfare systems were designed to be comprehensive social safety nets with universal coverage rather than special programs for a distinct group defined as "the poor." As a result, European blue-collar workers strongly supported these programs during the postwar period, rather than resenting them. But in America there was no significant force or institution in the mid-1960s prepared to propose a system of this kind that could have united the interests of black and white blue-collar workers. In fact, even if there had been, American workers no longer had a political language or intellectual tradition in which to talk about collective demands of this sort. Instead, they had only society's description of them as junior members of the affluent society and the broad "middle class." They knew they were not really in the same position as the doctors and advertising executives–people who could legitimately be described as affluent–but, as Rubin noted, they did not even have a vocabulary to describe what they really were.

The only politician who gave voice to the anger and frustration of American workers was George Wallace, the third-party candidate in the 1968 elections. Wallace's diatribes against both blacks and "pointy-headed intellectuals" echoed workers' perceptions of attack from above and below, while his potent slogan "Send them a message" precisely expressed what white workers wanted to do–to send both political parties the message that they were ignoring working-class Americans.

During the 1970s Wallace's message was refined by various Republican spokesmen. But the overt racial and social stereotyping was too bitter and divisive to serve as the basis for an enduring political realignment. It required Ronald Reagan's more optimistic and positive version of a populist revolt against big government to convert it into a political philosophy that could bind blue-collar workers to the Republican Party. Reagan's antigovernment philosophy carried the individualistic approach that American workers had internalized during the postwar era to its logical conclusion: If government programs were controlled by people who had no sympathy or understanding for working Americans, and if government actions were more likely to harm workers' interests than help them, workers would be better off if government did little or nothing at all.

By 1992, however, after a decade of stagnant or declining real income, even with both husband and wife working full time, and increasing job insecurity as factory closings and corporate downsizing spread across the economy, many of the blue-collar Reagan Democrats soured on the entirely individualistic solutions offered by the Republican Party. Workers' growing disenchantment could be traced in studies such as Ruth Milkman's Farewell to the Factory and Rick Fantasia's Cultures of Solidarity, which documented the effects of factory closings and the growing trade-union militancy in working-class America. In the political sphere, workers were once again voting in substantial numbers for a third-party candidate, Ross Perot, whose major function, like Wallace's, was to "send Washington a message" that both political parties were ignoring their needs.

The Perot candidacy allowed Bill Clinton to enter the White House without winning a majority of the popular vote and emboldened the liberal wing of the Democratic Party to begin designing strategies aimed at winning back the Reagan Democrats. By the mid-1990s the effort was well under way to recast the Great Society programs of the 1960s along lines that provided universal coverage and extended benefits to blue-collar America.

Progressive strategists were further encouraged by Clinton's victory in the 1996 election and by a variety of polls showing that blue-collar workers were actually positively disposed toward a wide variety of social programs. What did not receive comparable attention, however, was the fact that blue-collar distrust and hostility toward government, and particularly toward the "liberals" in Clinton's first administration, was entirely undiminished. (The militia movement of the mid-1990s, in which large numbers of blue-collar workers actively participated and actually came to perceive employees of federal agencies as an alien occupying army, provided a stunning demonstration of the depth and intensity of this feeling.) Opinion polls did not adequately reflect this profound antagonism, but trade unionists and others close to American workers knew that the social gap between middle-class liberals and blue-collar workers had in no way been overcome.

As the 2000 election approached, campaign strategists began to assert that Gore could win it if the contest was decided on the issues rather than personalities. While "values" were said to be important, those were defined to be a position on a particular set of issues such as gun control and abortion rather than an underlying personal philosophy. And the campaign was indeed largely fought on the basis of the issues Democrats had hoped to highlight. Yet while black and Latino blue-collar workers gave Gore substantial majorities, white workers turned away.

In a survey of 2,000 voters conducted immediately after the election, Gore's pollster Stanley Greenberg found that there were several key factors that had contributed to Gore's loss. Bush was successful in blurring the differences between the candidates on the issues where Gore held an advantage. More critically, Gore was perceived as less trustworthy than Bush, and more Americans felt that Bush, not Gore, shared their values. In fact, the single most important predictor of how people would vote was their perception of which candidate more fully shared their values.

These poll results help explain Bush's victory but seem to offer little guidance for the future: Voters' subjective opinions about trustworthiness and values seem painfully vague and difficult to challenge. But the specific factors Greenberg notes can be seen as elements in the larger process by which American workers make political choices. At this more general level, the outlines of a strategy for progressives does begin to appear.

Because of their limited time and resources, blue-collar workers generally do not try to evaluate competing sets of facts and statistics presented by political candidates. Instead, they pay more attention to what they often call the candidates' "philosophy"–the candidates' views regarding the kinds of policies they consider right or wrong and the general rules or criteria they promise to use in making decisions about specific issues. In effect, workers tend to choose a candidate based on his or her overall approach to the major issues of the day and then rely on that person to make the appropriate decisions about the specifics. This makes certain personal characteristics of a candidate, such as his or her honesty and understanding of working-class life, especially important. Thus, the objections to Gore that Greenberg identified should not be dismissed as superficial or capricious. For blue-collar workers, the trustworthiness, values and honesty of a political candidate are not simply desirable personal characteristics but rather an inherent part of their approach in deciding between competing political views and programs.

There are many potential lessons for progressive politics that can be drawn from the in-depth studies of working-class political opinion. But the central conclusion they suggest is the absolutely critical importance of respecting the values of American workers and understanding the culture in which they live.

To be sure, Democratic political candidates have already become accustomed to reciting a litany of respect for home, work and family when they are on the campaign trail, but this is far from sufficient. It is necessary to face the uncomfortable reality that there is still a vast cultural chasm and a profound lack of understanding that separates the college-educated from the 45 percent of white American men who are manual workers. It is a gap created not by differences in knowledge or intelligence but by the fact that the two groups live in fundamentally different worlds.

For one thing, although opinion polls demonstrate that workers' views on major issues actually span a wide range from left to right, many college-educated Americans still hold stereotypes of blue-collar workers as conservative "hard hats." The reason for the strength of that image is that the political debate between progress and reaction that goes on within working-class America, and the important cultural changes that have occurred over the years, are largely hidden from those outside. The college educated, for example, have not personally observed the subtle evolution of working-class attitudes toward women over the past thirty years, an evolution reflected in the songs of both male and female country music stars. Nor have they frequented the Wednesday evening prayer meetings that are held all across America, where working people seriously and sincerely struggle with their feelings on issues like prejudice, tolerance and greed. The Archie Bunker stereotype survives not because it is accurate but because those who live outside working-class America have no other image with which to replace it.

Equally, even those who consciously struggle to reject the stereotypes find it difficult to visualize ordinary working people as more than abstractions–the "hard-working husbands and wives with stagnant incomes and insecure jobs" who have become the clichés of the modern campaign trail. There is genuine concern and empathy for workers in these descriptions, but often a palpable sense of distance and disengagement as well. All too often, workers described in this way seem little more than the sum of their economic difficulties.

The problem arises because most educated Americans have so extraordinarily little intimate human contact with working people. For many, the depth of the cultural divide only becomes apparent in the awkward and uncomfortable moments when they cannot find a topic for small talk with a tradesman or employee. They have never shared the intense sense of brotherhood that pervades working-class life, the continuous joking and casual conversation on a construction site, the satisfaction of working together as a team and "getting the job done right." They have never experienced the exhilarating sense of mastery that a framing carpenter can feel as he stands on a narrow beam three stories above the ground, looks down at the traffic passing below and thinks to himself that he feels sorry for all those poor bastards who are going to be stuck in an office all day long.

In short, most educated Americans have little sense of the texture and the complexity of working-class life, of its richness and satisfactions as well as its problems and discontents. And without an intimate and personal understanding of these things, it will always be profoundly difficult for liberals and progressives to convince working Americans that they should be trusted to represent workers' needs and interests in the political system.

Conservatives have always been acutely aware of this cultural chasm between college-educated and blue-collar America, and every key Republican political strategist, from Kevin Phillips and Lee Atwater to Karl Rove, has relied on it as a critical advantage in the struggle for the blue-collar vote.

Just how decisive this cultural distance is can be seen in a single, startling fact: When trade unions took the case for Al Gore directly to their members, they totally reversed the national trends. While 69 percent of white men who were not members of trade unions voted for Bush and only 28 percent for Gore, 59 percent of white men who were members of trade unions voted for Gore and only 35 percent for Bush. Among white trade-union women, 67 percent voted for Gore and 31 percent for Bush. Among nonunion white women, in contrast, Gore lost by 7 percent.

The significance of these results is difficult to overstate. They demonstrate that when workers are presented with a progressive message by campaign workers who come from an institution that is part of working-class life, and who share their culture and values, a substantial majority can be convinced to support progressive candidates and programs.

During the 1930s, union organizers were taught never to blame the workers if an organizing campaign failed. "It's not their fault for not understanding," the organizers were instructed. "It's your fault for not explaining it clearly enough." It is a motto today's liberals and progressives would do well to hang on the walls of the political campaign war rooms in the elections of the coming years.

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