Illinois Professor Part of Team Studying White Working-Class

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A study done on the ‘White Working-Class”, authored in part by a University of Illinois professor, offers new insights into their strong political support for President Donald Trump.

University of Illinois’ Urban and Regional Planning professor, Stacy Harwood, along with a team of other researchers, focused on self-described ‘white working-class’ individuals in five U.S. cities.  The result is the report, “The Other America: White Working-Class Views on Belonging, Change, Identity and Immigration.”

Interestingly, the group had the foresight to do their study during the campaign leading up to the 2016 election and not afterward, giving them a front row seat into the voting block which helped propel Donald Trump’s eventual victory.  It was an outcome, the authors claim, that did not surprise them, given what they had found in their research.

The study was done using surveys, focus groups and individual interviews.  It found the self-identified group of white working-class people was neither overtly racist or racially isolated, as some have alleged, but did feel as if no political faction was fighting for them prior to Trump. 

The researchers’ conclusion was that the white working-class doesn’t identify themselves so much by race as they do with the term ‘working’, believing in values such as “work ethic, providing for family, helping others in need, being honest and direct, not depending on welfare,” and would identify with anyone who shared those values whether they were white or not.

According to a news release, summarizing the study, “The people interviewed placed a strong emphasis on fairness, equal treatment and ‘playing by the rules.’ Among their concerns were undocumented immigrants and communities of color receiving preferential treatment for jobs, services or benefits, while white working-class residents are left behind.” 

Those were themes that Trump adeptly used during a campaign where he defeated a large Republican field for the party’s nomination and then went on to win the presidency.

One of the stated goals of the study was to look for ways to help organizations “work across racial boundaries and bring people together to find common ground.”  However, when reading the 64 page report, it becomes clear that the divisions expressed by many in the study are real and vast.

For example, in a Tacoma, WA, focus group, one participant discussed how ‘political correctness’ has the effect of silencing white working-class voters.  He says, “… look at all this political correctness… We feel muzzled. We feel there’s a choke hold on [the] throat of white people and white working-class people. We can’t even say what we feel.” 

In other words, they feel that Trump does more than represent them, but that he also liberates them to have what they see as an honest discussion when it comes to issues like illegal immigration, and the President’s divisiveness may be viewed as an unavoidable byproduct of his willingness to fight for their viewpoints.

From a political standpoint, the study would appear to be bad news for those Democrats who seek to bring white working-class voters back into the party’s fold, after suffering stunning electoral defeats at the local, state and national levels, that the party hasn’t experienced in decades. 

The researchers found that those identifying with the white working-class demographic include a wider and more diverse group than many realize, who are united in a sense of economic and cultural insecurity.  It indicates that white working-class voters would find a political party focused more on racial, ethnic and religious minorities, ‘politically correct’ liberal elites, and immigrants – including those who immigrated to the U.S. illegally – to be an unattractive political option.

For the Republican Party, the study reveals some of the reasons for the party’s sudden and significant shift from conservatism to more populist ‘Trumpism’ and suggests the shift will continue as long as Trump remains the party’s standard-bearer, potentially leading to an even more divided electorate nationally.

You can read the full study here.

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