Who won working class voters? An open challenge

Let's see pundits who think Trump won them put their money where their mouths are.

Joe Biden won poor voters. Everything even remotely resembling sound evidence confirms this. And it is completely in line with longstanding and well-documented trends of Democratic presidential candidates winning big margins with them. As I noted yesterday, for example, exit polls are telling us that Biden outperformed Trump among poor voters by a whopping 15%.

It’s entirely plausible that this margin was smaller than exit polls suggest — they are often somewhat inaccurate, and have to be taken with a big grain of salt. And there are credible reasons to believe that Republicans have made some inroads among poor voters in recent years. But the claim that this strong and enduring partisan preference not only eroded this year, but completely reversed itself — that the polls were not only marginally wrong, but exactly wrong — is absolutely extraordinary, and the evidence it would take to overthrow it just isn’t there.

And yet people keep saying this. For example, here’s Matt Taibbi earlier today:

Matt has his good takes and his bad takes. This is definitely one of the latter. It is one thing to say that exits may be off, but it is quite another to insist that they are so far off that Trump actually won the income brackets that exit polls say he clearly lost. And it is even more implausible to point to one’s anecdotal experience of covering political rallies as evidence for this extraordinary claim. Political rallies are not a representative sample group and eyeballing participants is even less reliable than the self-reporting that exits typically depend on.

I don’t have any theories about why Matt, personally, is making this claim. I am not even entirely sure he’s actually saying, as he appears to be, that the income alignments are wrong. But more broadly, I see at work in our discourse the resurgence of a narrative that has been around for decades: the line that Republicans are the party of true blue collar red blooded Joe the Plumber Americans, and that Democrats are the party of well-off out-of-touch elites. And a major component of this narrative, of course, has always been to lump the critics of capitalism into the latter group as “champagne socialists”, a clique of elites and intellectuals who are completely out of touch with True Workers.

I have zero interest in defending the Democratic Party itself — its officials and apparatchiks, the donors and lobbyists that it actually works for — as anything other than one of the two parties of capital. But a credible class analysis means acknowledging that the GOP is obviously also the party of the elites. And it also means that while we must first account for the overwhelmingly poor and working class people who identify with neither party and never vote at all, we must also acknowledge the fact that Democrats, for whatever reason, continue to attract more poor voters than Republicans. This is not some kind of partisan position or one I would have any interest in defending if it weren’t true; it’s just a historical fact.

So with all of that said, I’d like to issue an open challenge. I am not a well off man these days, but I am so confident in the partisan income alignments that I will make the following bet:

  • I’ll put $300 down and give 3:1 odds that Biden wins more voters in the < $50k household income bracket than Trump; and

  • I’ll put $200 down and give 2:1 odds that Biden wins more voters in the $50-100k household income bracket than Trump.

Given the unreliability of exit polls we will have to agree on an alternative source to decide the bet: I propose either CCES data or a precinct-level analysis, which is probably as rigorous and objective as this is going to get. Neither will be out anytime soon but when the data eventually arrives we can return to our wager then. Both prongs of the bet have to be accepted, and both parties will announce the results publicly on Twitter. The net loser will donate their their total loss to the charity of the winner’s choice.

I’m extending this challenge to the first pundit with (in my judgment) a significant audience who is willing to take me up on it. That’s because the payoff I want for my $500 risk is to actually clarify this point in the discourse — not just to win a random bet that people advancing this narrative can easily ignore.

I appreciate that household income is an imperfect proxy for class, and I also realize that some pundits are trading in idiosyncratic ideas about “class” that have nothing to do with one’s actual economic position. I also get that a lot of pundits who don’t have the courage of their convictions will just ignore this challenge instead of taking the easy money. That’s why I’ve made this an open challenge: when you see pundits insist that Trump won the working class but refuse to put their money with their mouth is, you’ll know why.