As the progressive coalition has become more diverse, important questions about the intersections of race and class have emerged. Recently, the movement for black lives has challenged progressives over how a class-first narrative can obscure racial injustice. For instance, the progressive tendency to romanticize the mid-20th century as a “golden age” for workers obscures deep racial and gender inequity that existed then. A new survey underscores this tension, and suggests that the progressive coalition is deeply divided about the lived experiences of race and class.
The survey, an Internet-based poll with a sample of 1,000 respondents, was performed between January 23 and 25. It asked a series of questions about how their race and class identity affected their lives in America.
The survey asked respondents how important race is to their sense of identity, and offered five options: “very important,” “somewhat important,” “not very important,” “not at all important,” and “not sure.” Across the full sample, 26 percent said “very important” and 23 percent said “somewhat important.” There were clear regional divides: 33 percent of respondents from the South and 29 percent of Northeasterners said “very important,” compared with 18 percent of Midwesterners and 21 percent of those living in the West. But the deepest divide was by race itself: Only 16 percent of white respondents said that race is “very important” in their lives, compared with 70 percent of black respondents and 40 percent of Hispanics.
Respondents were also asked whether their race or their class has a bigger impact on their lives in America, or whether they weren’t sure. While the results were predictable, they were nonetheless stark. In total, respondents believed class to be more relevant than race to life in America. Just 29 percent of them said race had a bigger impact, while a majority—55 percent—chose class. But there were deep race and partisan divides on this question.
White and black Americans have, essentially, opposing views. Among whites, 19 percent said race, while 62 percent said class (the rest said “not sure”). However, among black Americans, 67 percent said race and 23 percent said class. Among Hispanics, respondents were evenly divided.
When looking at the question by political party, Democrats appear much more conflicted than Republicans—as you’d expect, given the far greater racial diversity among Democrats. Among Democrats, 44 percent said race has a bigger impact, while more than the 38 percent said class. Among Republicans, just 22 percent said race and 67 percent said class.
In order to fully understand how these divides would affect the progressive coalition, I asked Peter Moore, an assistant editor at YouGov, to provide me additional, exclusive data. The data confirms that the same divide on race versus class that exists between black and white Americans overall exists within the Democratic Party, too. Among white Democrats, only 28 percent say that race is more important than class, compared with 62 percent of black Democrats. Among all people of color who identified as Democrat, 51 percent said race and 33 percent said class.