At the grassroots, the key divide in today’s Republican Party isn’t between downscale Tea Partiers and affluent pro-business moderates. It’s between relatively affluent Tea Partiers, who want government radically downsized, and working-class conservatives who want government to help them get ahead, the people Ross Douhat and Reihan Salam called “Sam’s Club” Republicans.
In the Obama era, these downscale whites have streamed into the GOP. In 2004, notes Pew, whites with a high school education or less leaned Republican by six points. By 2012, they leaned Republican by 16 points. In 2004, Democrats enjoyed a nine point advantage among whites who earned less than $30,000. By 2012, that margin was down to two points. You can see this shift in West Virginia, a low-education, low-income, historically Democratic state where Barack Obama in 2012 lost every single county.
Pew calls these white working class migrants into the GOP “disaffecteds.” Like Tea Partiers, they’re religious, oppose gun control, want tougher enforcement of America’s borders and take a dim view of the federal government. But unlike Tea Partiers, they’re not angry at the federal government because they see it as a leviathan crushing their economic freedom. They’re angry because it’s not an effective ally in their economic struggles. Ninety-six percent of “staunch conservatives” favor a smaller government that provides fewer services over a larger one that provides more services. But among “disaffecteds,” there’s an almost even split. Among “staunch conservatives,” the deficit represents the biggest economic worry, by far. Among “disaffecteds,” it’s rising prices and the lack of jobs.
(Photo: Coal miners look on as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign rally at American Energy Corportation on August 14, 2012 in Beallsville, Ohio, near the border of West Virginia. By Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)