12 October 2021   Leave a comment

Two left-leaning think tanks have published a very important study of the US electorate. We are familiar with the traditional breakdown of voting blocs into urban, suburban, and rural. This study looks at a different way to identify voters: residents in “manufacturing-heavy working-class towns that are not part of huge urban areas, but are not farming-dominated rural counties either. These “factory town” counties can be split into two types — midsized ones with cities more than 35,000 in population that are not attached to the big urban areas, and smaller ones that are just as reliant on manufacturing, but do not have any cities with at least 35,000 people. These counties contain 40% of voters.” The breakdown resonates with the socio-economic make-up of the area in which South Hadley resides–the cities of Chicopee, Holyoke, and Springfield.

The study reveals that residents in these areas voted overwhelmingly for President Trump in the 2016 and 2020 national elections. The report asserts:

“The bottom line is that while the Democratic margin in big cities and big city suburbs grew by a little over a million and a half votes in these ten states since 2012 (about 1,550,000) — more than enough to overcome the 557,000 losses in farm dominated rural counties — our losses in small and midsized manufacturing counties overwhelmed those gains, with combined losses of about 2,635,000 votes.

“The reasons Donald Trump made these kinds of gains in these factory towns are varied and complex, and should no doubt be heavily debated within the Democratic Party for years to come. This report points to the key places we should be looking.”

The report digs down deeper–it was not simply that these areas lost jobs in the process of globalization in the 1990s and early 2000s although that trauma explains much of Trump’s attractiveness to the voters. The report identifies three ancillary factors that suggest policy options other than simply creating more manufacturing jobs:

“The report goes on to examine the ways health declined once the jobs went. Using metrics from the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps that track a variety of health outcomes, not just access to affordable care, researchers found that the midsized factory towns saw their health outcomes decline by 5.7% in the last decade, and the larger the decline, the larger the shift to the GOP in the voting booth. Interestingly, they report that health outcomes in the small factory towns actually improved by 0.3%.

“A third section shows the drop-off in unionization in the factory towns, which is part of the explanation for the decline in Democratic voting. Unions have long been the engine of progressive politics in the Midwest, and the region surveyed accounted for 93% of the nationwide decline in union jobs in the past decade.

“The final section of the report examines race, and the results are not pretty. More diverse factory towns were less likely to see a vote shift away from the Democrats than those that were disproportionately white. The racist dog whistles worked.

“The report does not seek to answer the more difficult and troubling question: Did the economic uncertainty make the appeal to racism more likely to succeed, or was the racism there all the time?”

The benefit of this analysis is that it suggests more strategies to address the needs of workers than simply to argue that the US needs to beef up its manufacturing capabilities. The truth is that the US still produces a lot of manufactured products, but that it does so with fewer workers. This chart identifies the discrepancy:

The impact of losing a job is amplified by the loss of health insurance associated with employment. Health insurance not tied to a job would alleviate some of this anxiety. Similarly, unions can prevent the loss of jobs associated with ruthless job cutting to beef up corporate profits. Finally, addressing the reality of race hatred, which spills over into a desire to restrict immigration, can diminish the attractiveness of using race to magnify the trauma of a loss of jobs.

Posted October 12, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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