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Monday, December 26, 2016

What does the working class look like?

Google defines the working class as the social group consisting of people who are employed for wages, especially in manual or industrial work. But that basically points to blue collar workers. During this past election cycle, the media referred to the working class as the working poor. So let's use the latter as our identifier.

Each year the Current Population Survey (CPS) puts together a poverty report. The most recent report can be found here. The poverty threshold is around $12K for a single worker or $24K for a 4-person household. The CPS reports that 13.5% of Americans live under the poverty threshold. That's approximately 43.1 million people.

Reading post-mortems from places like The Atlantic, CNN, The Hill, The New Yorker, etc. the conventional wisdom is that Hillary abandoned white working class voters (which had been in the Obama coalition) and therefore lost the election to Trump. And sure enough the 2012 exit poll shows Obama winning voters who earned under $30,000 63%-35% whereas the 2016 exit poll shows that Clinton won that group 53%-41%.  Given that her margins among minorities were not too different from Obama's margins, we can chalk up the bulk of that difference to white voters.  Just how many voters is that?

Of the 43.1 million people living under the poverty line, white people account for 28.6 million or 66%.  On the other hand, whites account for 79% of the people living over the poverty line. The CPS data does not breakdown age-race demographic combinations but we do also know that of the 43.1 million poor, 66% are above the age of 18.  If those people voted at the same rate as wealthier Americans (our first assumption), then we would be looking at about 15.7 million people under the poverty line that voted.  Since the CPS does not offer data for race-age subdivisions, we have to make a second assumption that the distribution of the poor over the age of 18 is the same as the distribution of the poor in general, such that 66% are white.  Multiplying that 15.7 million by 0.66 we find a total of 10.4 million voters here that make up the "White Working Class" - in effect, 7.6% of all voters.

Hillary turning Obama's 28-point margin of victory into a 12-point margin of victory, therefore means she lost 1.2% net votes to Trump. Compare that to the 2-3% that she lost because of Comey's interference and another 2-3% that she lost because of Putin's interference. And don't forget that a good sized chunk of that 1.2% may have flipped because of Comey or Putin.  To ascertain that Clinton's loss, therefore, was due to neglect of poor white voters is therefore an absolute falsehood.