The Whims of the Working Class Could Decide Presidential Race

Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, speaks during a July 14 campaign event in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

(CN) — Mike Krondak has been busting his hump nearly every day of the week for upwards of three decades. 

“This body has had enough,” he said. 

Krondak, in his late 50s, works for SLC Inc., a California-based company that specializes in the construction of cellular communication towers so critical to the wireless communication infrastructure in the United States. 

He pours concrete, runs heavy machinery, digs trenches and spends his day doing the type of hard manual labor that would send most able-bodied young people to the infirmary after a couple of days. 

He doesn’t like politics. 

“I try and stay away from all that nonsense,” he said. “It doesn’t interest me at all.”

Sometimes Trump will come up on the job site, but it’s rare. Most of all, people are too busy for idle chit-chat. 

But for all his aversion to the political fracases of the day, Krondak is a consistent voter. He grew up in a Catholic household with a passel of older sisters who were all crazy for John F. Kennedy. 

He inherited a lean toward the Democrats until Ronald Reagan arrived on the scene. 

“I shook off the full-on Democrat approach and started picking the president based on who is the best one,” he said. 

In 2008, that was Barack Obama. But come 2016, Krondak elected to sit the whole thing out. 

“They both kind of sucked in my mind,” he said. 

But as one of the persuadable voters from the working class, Krondak is squarely in the sights of both Joe Biden’s and Donald Trump’s campaign for president, as both camps attempt to craft rhetoric they think will appeal to the working man. 

Perhaps chastened by Hillary Clinton’s poor performance in the Midwest, where Trump won traditionally blue states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania on his way to a decisive electoral college victory, Joe Biden has repeatedly sought to appeal to working-class people who wear boots to work. 

The former vice-president spent much of the past month unfurling a three-pronged plan aimed at revitalizing the American economy with a weather eye toward enhancing economic opportunities for working-class people who have been shouldered out of the tech-based service-oriented economy that tends to rely on overseas manufacturing. 

Biden’s plan, which his campaign has dubbed “Build Back Better,” promised a comprehensive infrastructure bill that would put Americans to work to rebuild decaying roads and bridges, while helping to refurbish America’s energy grid to a more clean energy-centric model. 

The plan also focuses on caregiving, for children and for elderly parents, citing the immense burdens working men and women endure as they juggle the necessity to make a living with family requirements. 

But Biden has also stressed at nearly every speaking event that he wants to bring back manufacturing to America’s shores, saying the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the need for America to ensure critical supply chains exist within the nation’s borders. 

“I do not accept the defeatist view that the forces of automation and globalization render us helpless to retain well-paid union jobs and create more of them here in America,” Biden said. “I do not buy for one second that the vitality of U.S. manufacturing is a thing of the past.”

Erik Loomis, a professor at the University of Rhode Island who has focused on the history of labor relations in the United States, said such rhetoric is clearly aimed at appealing to American workers. 

“If you are talking to voters in Erie, Pennsylvania or Youngstown, Ohio, these are effective talking points because manufacturing jobs have not come back to those places under Trump,” Loomis said. 

So effective are the talking points, that the Trump campaign has repeatedly accused Biden of plagiarizing elements of Trump’s “America First” agenda and its focus on restoring American manufacturing prowess. 

“He plagiarized from me, but he could never pull it off,” Trump told reporters at the White House In July. “He likes plagiarizing. It’s a plan that is very radical left. But he said the right things because he’s copying what I’ve done, but the difference is he can’t do it.”

Trump spent much of his campaign in 2016 focusing on working-class issues like trade deals and keeping factories in America and the rhetorical outreach to the working class persisted through his presidency, with a focus on trade deals, derisive tweets lobbed towards companies that planned to move factories overseas and events at the White House for truck drivers and other blue-collar sectors. The economy performed well during the president’s first three years in office with unemployment at record lows before the coronavirus hit. 

Since then, the president has been playing defense on the economy and has shifted messaging away from the working class and more toward the culture wars, law and order, and an increase in anti-China messaging. 

“Right now, it’s less about class and more about race with Trump,” said Loomis. “He is going to try and appeal to the working class, the whites at any rate, by demonizing China. He is not making the same kind of explicitly working-class appeal.”

Whether or not explicit working-class appeals are effective is another question. 

When asked about Biden’s plans for infrastructure, Krondak sounded skeptical. 

“It’s just a ploy to get the working man under their belt in my mind,” Krondak said. “Those plans don’t make or break what I do.”

Krondak said either candidate could sway him if they put out specific proposals about benefits that help the working man. 

“It’s not necessarily about wages, but I would like to see them even the playing field for the working man in terms of retirement and benefits,” Krondak said. 

He looks at his social security statement and sees money fleeing from his account rather than accruing. At age 59, Krondak isn’t sure how much longer his body can take the punishment that manual labor incurs. 

James Morrison also works construction for SLC, although he is on the wiring side, so instead of building the towers themselves, he comes and hooks up the cellular equipment once the physical infrastructure is completed. 

He, like Krondak, is suspicious of the explicitly working-class appeals floated by either candidate or any candidate for political office for that matter. 

“I don’t vote according to what is going to benefit me personally, I don’t think like that,” Morrison said. “I don’t want to vote for something that might benefit me personally, but might hurt the other guy. I want to know what are you going to do for everybody.”

Morrison, who is only 31 years old, has not voted in a presidential election, but as he matures into his responsibility as the breadwinner for his family, he is thinking about casting his lot in the upcoming election for the first time. 

But there are a number of reasons to be skeptical that voters like Morrison will shun Trump and vote for Biden based on economic policies like infrastructure investment and taxing the rich to help fund workers’ programs. 

“Social historians often point to the rise of the suburbs as creating a fundamental shift in the Democratic Party away from economic issues and toward social issues, thereby alienating the working class,” Loomis said. 

Timothy Lombardo, professor of history at the University of Southern Alabama, agrees that both parties have leaned more on social issues and cultural wedge issues in the elections of the recent past. 

“Since the era of Reagan Democrats, if you take out issues like abortion, gay rights, affirmative action and the like and the parties are not that different when it comes to economic models,” Lombardo said. 

But there is daylight between the economic policies offered by Biden and Trump. 

Trump’s major legislative accomplishment in office was tax cuts for all Americans and corporations, which Trump and his GOP backers claim supercharged the U.S. economy until the arrival of the coronavirus. Trump’s team says his brand of low taxation, a rollback of regulations, environmental and otherwise and a focus on trade deals is the true path to economic prosperity. 

Biden’s plans, on the other hand, advocate heavy public investment and a more active role for the government in creating jobs. 

Loomis is skeptical that voters are going to contrast specifics in each economic plan, noting that Hillary Clinton had detailed plans for infrastructure investment that were largely ignored by voters. 

But polling shows that there is room for Biden to make explicit appeals to working-class voters.

A poll released in early July by the Brookings Institute showed white working-class voters under 40 are less enamored with Trump’s job performance than the same voter aged 40 and up. 

A full 46% of voters aged 18-39 said Trump has been a terrible president so far, compared to only 31% of voters aged 40-64. 

The poll shows younger members of the working class have serious doubts about Trump’s competence, particularly as it relates to handling the coronavirus pandemic and bringing about national unity. 

A separate poll, performed by the BlueGreen Alliance, queried 752 white working-class voters, or white adults without a college degree, in the battleground states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Ohio.  

The poll found a slight majority of voters (51%) who did not vote or voted for a third-party candidate in 2016, are unlikely to cast their vote for Trump this time around. 

“Donald Trump is beatable in November and some of the very same voters that helped put him in the White House can help kick him out,” said BlueGreen Alliance Executive Director Jason Walsh. “But, Joe Biden has to prove to these voters that he stands with him to earn their votes.”

Loomis thinks he can. 

“He’s from Scranton, Pennsylvania and he’s been a moderate candidate his whole career,” Loomis said. “So he can talk to these kinds of communities effectively.”

However, with the coronavirus pandemic still raging Biden might not get the opportunity to talk to these communities in person. 

For Loomis, this is not so much a setback. 

“This election is not as much about Biden as it is about Trump,” he said. “The fundamental question is do you want four more years of this or not.”

For Krondak the answer is no. 

He said he will not be marking the box next to Trump’s name this coming November despite having no particular enthusiasm for Biden. 

“Trump pisses off too many people,” Krondak said. “I don’t like his political rapport with the heads of all the other countries. They all think he’s an idiot. Nobody likes the guy.”

It’s not so much a matter of economic policy for Krondak as much as it is a matter of presidential comportment. And Krondak said Trump lacks it. 

For Morrison, the comportment aspect of it doesn’t matter so much. 

He’s still unsure of whether he’ll get in the voting booth come November, but if he does mark a box in the election it will likely be for Trump. 

He said he blocks out all the noise surrounding the president’s personal style and focuses on his accomplishments. He said he likes that the president stands up to China on trade and other issues. 

“I’m tired of seeing America taken advantage of by other countries,” Morrison said. “I believe Trump has done a good job for this country.”

However, both men remain undecided citing the early stage of the election process and general skepticism about whether their votes are remotely consequential in the grand scheme. 

But whatever indecision lingers, the working-class white men who are largely credited with handing Trump the Oval Office in 2016 will likely be a decisive factor in 2020’s result. 

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