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Survey | Beyond Guns and God: Understanding the Complexities of the White Working Class in America

[09.20.2012]

The 2012 Race, Class, and Culture Survey

 

Read the full report here.
Read the news release here.
Read the Topline Questionnaire, including the survey methodology.

The Survey

The results of this survey are based on telephone interviews conducted between August 2, 2012 and August 15, 2012, among a random sample of 2,501 adults living in the continental United States. The survey includes a special focus on white working-class Americans, who are defined as non-Hispanic white Americans without a four-year college degree who hold non-salaried jobs, and make up roughly one-third (36%) of all Americans.

White Working-Class Americans and the 2012 Vote. 

In mid-August, Governor Mitt Romney held a double-digit advantage over President Barack Obama among white working-class voters (48% vs. 35%), while white college-educated voters were nearly evenly divided in their voting preferences (44% supporting Romney vs. 42% supporting Obama). However, white working-class voters are not monolithic and their preferences varied substantially by region, religious affiliation, and gender.

  • In mid-August, Romney held a commanding 40-point lead over Obama among white working-class voters in the South (62% vs. 22%). However, neither candidate held a statistically significant lead among white working-class voters in the West (46% Romney vs. 41% Obama), Northeast (42% Romney vs. 38% Obama), or the Midwest (36% Romney vs. 44% Obama).
  • Romney enjoyed a 2-to-1 advantage over Obama among white working-class Protestant voters (56% vs. 27%), but white working-class Catholic voters were nearly evenly divided (44% Romney vs. 41% Obama).
  • White working-class men favored Mitt Romney over Barack Obama by a margin of nearly 2-to-1 (55% vs. 28%), but white working-class women were evenly divided between Romney and Obama (41% each).
  • Despite Romney’s overall lead among white working-class voters, neither candidate holds strong appeal. Less than half of white working-class Americans have a favorable view of Obama (44%) or Romney (45%). By contrast, over 6-in-10 (61%) white working-class Americans have a favorable opinion of former President Bill Clinton, and a slim majority (51%) have a favorable opinion of former President George W. Bush.

Economic and Community Challenges Facing White Working-Class Americans

  • Despite working more hours than white college-educated Americans (51 hours vs. 46 hours), white working-class Americans are more likely to report that they are in worse financial shape. Approximately two-thirds of white working-class Americans report being in fair (39%) or poor shape (27%) financially. By contrast, over 6-in-10 white college-educated Americans say they are in good (51%) or excellent (12%) financial shape.
  • One-in-five (20%) white working-class Americans do not have health insurance. White working-class Americans who are insured are significantly less likely than white college-educated Americans to say they receive health insurance through their employer or their spouse’s employer (47% vs. 69%). More than one-third (36%) of white working-class Americans who are insured rely on government programs like Medicare and Medicaid for health insurance.
  • White working-class Americans are more likely than white college-educated Americans to report that a lack of good jobs (67% vs. 52%) and a lack of opportunities for young people (56% vs. 46%) are major problems facing their communities.
  • White working-class Americans are also significantly more likely than white college-educated Americans to report that home foreclosures (49% vs. 36%), crime (32% vs. 19%), illegal immigration (29% vs. 19%), and racial tensions (17% vs. 9%) are major problems facing their communities.

Issues Responsible For Economic Problems 997x1024 Survey | Beyond Guns and God: Understanding the Complexities of the White Working Class in America

Regional Effects on White Working Class Cultural Attitudes

  • Southern white-working class Americans stand out from white working-class Americans in the Northeast, Midwest, and West on a number of cultural attitudes and attributes.
    • White working-class Americans in the South (62%) are more likely than white working-class Americans in the West (50%), Midwest (48%), or Northeast (38%) to live in households with firearms.

There is much greater opposition to same-sex marriage among white working-class Americans in the South than among white working-class Americans in other regions. Less than one-third (32%)of white working class Americans in the South favor allowing gay and lesbian people to marry, compared to 44% in the Midwest, 47% in the West, and 57% in Northeast.

Challenging Five Myths About the White Working Class

Myth 1. White working-class Americans strongly identify with the Tea Party movement. White working-class Americans (13%) are no more likely than white college-educated Americans (10%) to say they consider themselves part of the Tea Party. White working-class Americans (34%) are also about equally as likely as white college-educated Americans (31%) to say the Tea Party movement shares their values.

Myth 2. White working-class Americans have abandoned traditional religiosity and a strong work ethic. White working-class Americans are more likely than Americans overall to identify as white evangelical Protestants (36% vs. 21%). They do not attend religious services less frequently than Americans overall (48% vs. 50% attend at least once a month), and do not report that religion is less important in their lives (60% vs. 59% say religion is important in their lives). White working-class Americans also work hard, averaging more hours per week than white college-educated Americans (51 vs. 46).

Myth 3. White working-class Americans vote against their economic interests. Low-income white working-class Americans and white working-class Americans who have received food stamps within the last two years were significantly less likely to support Romney, whose economic plan would reduce funding for government programs like food stamps.

  • White working-class voters in households that make less than $30,000 per year were nearly evenly divided in their voting preferences (39% favored Obama, 42% favored Romney). However, a majority (51%) of white working-class voters with annual incomes of $30,000 or more a year supported Romney, while 35% preferred Obama.
  • Half (50%) of white working-class voters who have not reported using food stamps in the past two years supported Romney, while less than one-third (32%) supported Obama. By contrast, white working-class voters who reported receiving food stamps in the last two years preferred Obama to Romney by a significant margin (48% vs. 36%).

Myth 4. White working-class Americans are animated by culture war issues like abortion or same-sex marriage.

  • White working-class Americans are somewhat divided on abortion. Half (50%) say that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared to 45% who say it should be illegal in all or most cases.
  • While half (50%) of white working-class Americans are opposed to allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, more than 4-in-10 (43%) favor same-sex marriage.
  • Only 1-in-20 white working-class Americans say that either abortion (3%) or same-sex marriage (2%) is the most important issue to their vote. By contrast, a majority (53%) of white working-class Americans say the economy is their most important voting issue.

Myth 5. White working-class Americans embrace unfettered free market capitalism. In fact, white working-class Americans display a strong strain of economic populism.

  • Seven-in-ten (70%) white working-class Americans believe the economic system in this country unfairly favors the wealthy, and a majority (53%) say that one of the biggest problems in this country is that we don’t give everyone an equal chance in life.
  • A plurality (46%) of white working-class Americans believe that capitalism and the free market system are at odds with Christian values, while 38% disagree.
  • Nearly 8-in-10 white working-class Americans say that corporations moving American jobs overseas are somewhat (25%) or very (53%) responsible for Americans’ current economic distress.
  • Over 6-in-10 (62%) white working-class Americans favor raising the tax rate on Americans with household incomes of over $1 million per year.

Confirming Five Pieces of Conventional Wisdom

1. White working-class Americans embrace different consumer preferences, lifestyle choices, and parenting choices than white college-educated Americans.

  • A majority (56%) of white working-class Americans report that they would prefer to shop at Walmart as opposed to Target, while 6-in-10 (60%) white college-educated Americans say the reverse.
  • Only 31% of white working-class Americans have a close friend or family member who is vegetarian, compared to a majority (53%) of college-educated Americans.

 

White working-class Americans are more likely than white college-educated Americans to value deference to authority over autonomy. When asked to choose between pairs of traits that emphasize children’s autonomy versus deference to parental authority, nearly two-thirds (65%) of white working-class Americans favor authoritarian childrearing traits, compared to around 4-in-10 (41%) white college-educated Americans.

2. White working-class Americans are less likely than white college-educated Americans to feel connected to government. While a majority (51%) of white college-educated Americans say they think of the U.S. government as “our” government rather than “the” government, only 39% of white working-class Americans think about the U.S. government as “our” government.

3. White working-class Americans are more likely than white college-educated Americans to believe that blacks and other minorities have received too many advantages and government attention.

  • Six-in-ten (60%) white working-class Americans agree that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities, compared to only 39% of white college-educated Americans.
  • Nearly half (49%) of white working-class Americans agree that over the past few decades the government has paid too much attention to the problems of blacks and other minorities, compared to 32% of white college-educated Americans.
  • White working-class Americans in the West (40%), Midwest (48%), and Northeast (48%) are less likely than white working-class Americans in the South (58%) to believe that over the past few decades, the government has paid too much attention to the problems of blacks and other minorities.

4. White working-class Americans have concerns about immigrants competing with them for jobs. White working-class Americans are 20 points more likely than white college-educated Americans to agree that illegal immigrants taking jobs that would otherwise be filled by American citizens are responsible for our current economic problems (57% vs. 37%).

5. Despite being economically disillusioned, white working-class Americans strongly believe in American exceptionalism. Although white working-class Americans are less likely than white college-educated Americans to believe the American Dream still holds true (47% vs. 63%), they are more likely than white college-educated Americans to believe that God has granted America a special place in human history (70% vs. 42%).

Read the full report here.
Read the news release here.
Read the Topline Questionnaire, including the methodology.

Homepage photo courtesy of Susan NYC via Flickr.