US 2020 Election: ‘White working class communities cannot be ignored’, say social scientists

Publication title: The Other America: White Working Class Perspectives on Race, Identity and Change
Author: Professor Harris Beider and Kusminder Chahal
Publication type: Book (Paperback)
New research has been published exploring the views of white working class Americans on race, change and immigration as the US prepares for the 2020 Presidential Election.

Academics Professor Harris Beider and Kusminder Chahal interviewed more than 400 people from Birmingham, AL, Dayton, OH, Phoenix, AZ, New York, NY and Tacoma, WA, on what it means to be white, the challenges of selecting a President and future opportunities for building cross-racial coalitions.

The fieldwork, which took place in 2016 and 2017 in the lead up to Donald Trump’s election as President, uncovered themes of anger and disenchantment as well as desire for economic and political change.

The book titled ‘The Other America: White Working Class Perspectives on Race, Identity and Change’, has been published by Bristol University’s Policy Press.

It will be officially launched at a special online event being held this week (Thursday 22 October), which is free for members of the press and public to attend. The event will feature a discussion between the authors and include a Q and A session with attendees.

“Trump was about hope and change for white working class people, and understanding that they felt ridiculed, silenced and left behind in the context of making progress and nation building,” said Harris Beider, Professor of Communities and Public Policy at Birmingham City University.

“The white working class can be considered to be as diverse as any other community. We want to use the data and evidence from our fieldwork to challenge some of the overarching rhetoric and narrative framed around this group. For example, by deconstructing the view of white working class communities as being unstinting Trump supporters, with all that implied in the 2016 campaign.”

The study by Beider and Chahal saw participants recognise the negative media coverage about Trump and his supporters being consigned as ‘white trash’ or ‘trailer trash’, with some criticising the media for attempting to pathologize white working class communities in this way.

Senior Research Fellow Kusminder Chahal added: “Our research shows that the lived experiences of white working class communities complicate the conventional view of the constituency as driving populism, or being the reason for the success of Trump.

“It also challenges widely accepted definitions of the white working class and the lack of appetite among this group to work alongside others to form cross-racial coalitions of interest on the ground. In revealing these insights, we provide opportunities for policymakers to reconsider how white working class communities are perceived, and how they can be engaged in a positive and inclusive way going forward.”

The researchers are calling for a radical overhaul of the way in which white working class communities are discussed, engaged with, and represented by policymakers and political organisations as the political cycle of 2020 picks up pace.

“White working class communities cannot simply be ignored. Rather the white working class should be considered to be as diverse as any other group, an important legacy population, and a community that has a range of views shaped by location, politics and culture,” said Professor Beider.

“If political parties are serious about creating and sustaining winning political coalitions, they need to reach out to these voters and connect with their fears and concerns.

“Looking ahead, successful national campaigns could, and should, be based on widening the much-celebrated ‘rainbow coalition’ in a way that white working class communities can be included as a critical component—no longer derided and ridiculed, but seen as being important as the US addresses the issues of race and class in the 21st century.”

To register to attend the book launch visit Eventbrite and search for ‘The Other America’.