Working-class white voters will prove tricky to court this election cycle, as a new study reveals the key demographic's often conflicting views on the economy and government.
A majority of working-class white Americans believe the U.S. economic system unfairly favors the wealthy, but even more of them are cautious of government assistance programs, according to a new report by the Public Religion Research Institute. The report also found 62 percent of working-class whites support raising the tax rate on Americans with household incomes of more than $1 million per year. Sixty-one percent, however, believe that the federal government should lower taxes and provide fewer services.
Those contradictions are part of why working-class whites remain a contested and key demographic in the presidential contest, courted by both Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama.
The Public Religion Research Institute's findings could present a rude awakening for Romney, who has proposed tax cuts that would disproportionately benefit wealthier Americans. Yet working-class whites' views on government dependency might offer Romney some comfort, as his campaign has battled for the past few days to make a 1998 video of Obama saying that he favors "some redistribution" part of the election news cycle.
Although 70 percent of working-class whites believe the wealthy are favored under the current economic system, according to the Public Religion Research Institute, an even larger proportion of that same group -- 75 percent -- believe that poor people have become too dependent on government assistance programs.
Yet a large share of that same group has benefited from government services: 46 percent of white working-class Americans have received Social Security or disability payments at some point over the past two years, 22 percent have received food stamps and 19 percent have received unemployment benefits.
Perhaps it's unsurprising, then, that working-class whites remain undecided voters. The Public Religion Research Institute report found that a majority of working-class whites do not view Romney (55 percent) and Obama (56 percent) favorably. Nonetheless, Romney still holds a lead in this demographic: 48 percent of working-class white voters support Romney, while 35 percent of working-class white voters support Obama.
(Hat tip: the Washington Post's Greg Sargent.)