This book involves an enduring interest of mine: How politics structures a debate about equality of opportunity in society. Do parties organize the electorate to create a party system in which voters with differing interests have means of articulating their concerns? The analysis is also a testimony to the importance of periodically reassessing conventional wisdoms. For some time I read the literature on American politics that argued Democrats had alienated the white working class and that class political divisions were steadily declining. It seemed odd to me that working-class whites would move to a party that has not always expressed great concern for their difficulties in a rapidly changing economy. That led me to borrow the National Election Studies cumulative file from Joe Cammarano, a colleague, and assess the association between class and party voting over time. In the analysis, I presumed that the important matter was the effect of relative income position of respondents. I assumed that people with less income would have different partisan inclinations from those with more income. Although this seemed appropriate to me, I was unaware that most scholars examine class political divisions by asking people to identify their class and then examining how the "middle" or "working" class voted.
The results were clear and very surprising. Since the 1950s less-affluent whites have not deserted the Democratic Party. Indeed, the pattern is opposite to what is often stated. Less-affluent whites did not vote strongly for Democrats in the 1950s. Their political support -- voting and party identification -- for Democrats has increased over time. The results seem very important to me for understanding post-World War II American politics. What analysts think happened does not appear to have happened; what has happened is important for understanding current partisan political disputes in Washington about public policy.
I do not presume that this book will in any way resolve the issue of how political divisions have evolved in recent decades. I hope it serves to prompt a fresh look at what has happened to electoral divisions in the last four decades. There is much to reexamine and sort, and this analysis is no more than a start. I hope the analysis presented in this book, simple as it is, will accomplish that. I also hope these findings prompt a reconsideration of how the less affluent and their grasp of politics and public policy debates are seen.