Class Identity Still Matters in U.S. Politics—If You Know What to Look For

Class Identity Still Matters in U.S. Politics—If You Know What to Look For
People listen as then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks after touring Local 66 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, in New Alexandria, Pa., Sept. 30, 2020 (AP photo by Andrew Harnik).

Class is dead in the United States. At least, that’s what some pundits would have us believe. Scholars and journalists today generally conclude that Americans do not have a class identity and that “class-based voting” in the U.S. is a thing of the past. Post-election narratives seeking to explain former President Donald Trump’s success in the 2016 presidential election, as well as the rise of populist movements in the West in general, have furthered the idea that racial and cultural attitudes override any notion of individual economic self-interest or working-class consciousness.

In recent years, the main narrative in the media and among political scientists has suggested that working-class individuals or people without a college degree supported members of the Republican party out of racial and cultural fear, rather than economic anxiety. In other words, the consensus among journalists and academics alike is that class identity matters in so far as it is a proxy for anti-immigrant attitudes and resentment toward racial minorities.

But should we be so quick to abandon the idea that class identification is important to Americans, and therefore deem it politically irrelevant?

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