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To win in November, Democrats must reclaim jobs and family values

FILE - Construction workers fasten the frame of a new building, Monday, May 3, 2021, in Miami.
(AP Photo/Marta Lavandier, File)
FILE – Construction workers fasten the frame of a new building, Monday, May 3, 2021, in Miami. The number of available jobs in the U.S. plummeted in August 2022 compared with July as businesses grow less desperate for workers, a trend that could cool chronically high inflation. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier, File)

About a month out from the midterms, progressives must act quickly to seize on what’s working and fix what isn’t. One of the major fixes regarding Democrats’ standing is with non-college voters (i.e. working-class voters), who comprised 65 percent of the nationwide electorate last cycle.

Between 2012 and 2020, support for Democrats among non-college voters overall dropped by 20 points. Nonwhite, working-class voters moved away from Democrats by 18 points during that time, and they moved toward Trump by double-digits in 2020 alone.

The decline among working-class voters extends across races, genders and regions; however, the downward trend among men — men of color particularly — has been most worrying to me. For over a decade, my work has focused on voters of color, with an emphasis on voters under age 35.

Over the last year, I’ve advanced that work by supporting a project called the Winning Jobs Narrative. Through more than 90,000 voter conversations and a review of two decades of research, it’s the most robust look at messaging on the political left that I’ve seen in my time working in political research. Not only does the ongoing project look at what motivates voters it also charts a framework for how to reach voters — including the voters (non-college voters, particularly men of color) who will make or break the midterms for Democrats.

Men of color have been some of the swingiest voters in recent elections, mostly to the Democrats’ detriment. And the Winning Jobs Narrative data shows that men of color are most motivated by issues of the economy: Good-paying jobs, increasing wages, lowering costs and economic growth.

So, how can Democrats turn the tide and reach these voters? We can meet them where they are with an authentic message about hard work and contribution to family and community.

For decades, Republicans have owned the conversations on work and family, even as they advanced tax cuts for the wealthiest people and corporations, leaving behind the middle class. Since President Reagan, Republicans have also racialized the concept of work. They’ve done so by advancing racist tropes of Black welfare recipients, enacting harsh work requirements to access anti-poverty programs, and fighting a so-called war on drugs that has imprisoned millions of Black and Latino men — locking them out of economic opportunities and separating fathers from their children.

It’s understandable why Democrats would be wary of wading into conversations around hard work and family values — Republicans have racialized them. But the Winning Jobs Narrative research shows that we actually need to lean in, talking about how the progressive movement values hard work and economic contribution. And we’ll back it up with policies that give working people access to the tools their families need to get ahead, like affordable childcare and healthcare expansions.

If Democrats fail to adjust their messaging and allow Republicans to be the only ones communicating with working people on the value of hard work, they will continue to own that value. They will continue to frame it using the lens of rugged individualism, boxing Democrats out and making progressives unable to credibly message men of color on this value. We must juxtapose those race-baiting, laissez-faire conceptions with an inclusive narrative that centers and empowers working-class people of all races.

In this year’s midterms, we must set up a choice for voters: Will you side with Democrats, who want to build an economy that respects working people — with quality jobs and education, affordable healthcare and childcare, and a fair tax code? Or will you side with Republicans, who are busy amplifying election conspiracies and rigging the rules for the wealthy while working people are trying to make ends meet?

The reality is, working-class voters all want the same things. They want to provide for their families with good-paying jobs. They want to live in strong communities where everyone has a fair shot. They want to build a better future for their kids. They want to believe that we are better than our bitter politics.

By centering working people, focusing on those shared values and establishing that the working class is the true engine of the economy, the Winning Jobs Narrative framework corrects for Republicans’ racialized, zero-sum arguments and opens the door for conversations about what really matters. We can chart a path forward with working-class voters — women and men, Black and white — by meeting them exactly where they are.

A month out from Election Day, Democrats must take up the mantle on the meaning of work — before time runs out.

Terrance Woodbury is CEO and founding partner of HIT Strategies and advisor to the Winning Jobs Narrative Project.

Tags 2022 midterm elections Economy of the United States Jobs Politics of the United States working class voters

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