Race, Ideology, and the Lie of "Right-Wing Populism"
Despite what some coastal conservative elites desperately wish to believe, Republican voters still view economic issues along the lines of race, not class.
Since the 2016 election and the three cycles that have followed—2018, 2020, and 2022—the American electoral map has changed in ways that would have been unrecognizable just ten years ago. Historically Democratic-leaning industrial and rural communities have moved sharply to the right, voting for the most Republicans by largest margins in living memory. Likewise, historically Republican suburban areas have moved sharply to the left. Other notable changes have occurred among the margins, but it is these two shifts that have resulted in the most flipped seats and states across the country. As a result, Republicans, historically supportive of policies that favor the wealthy, have increasingly lost the material/electoral base of support for such policies, seeing them replaced with a new class of poorer voters that should prefer a different economic approach. Democrats, more supportive of redistributivist policies, have lost many of their voters who would benefit from such policies, also seeing them replaced with voters that should prefer a different economic approach.
All of this has seemingly placed a massive contradiction right in the heart of American politics. Both sides of the aisle have been forced to reckon with it, and each has done so in remarkably different ways. Those to the left-of-center have watched these shifts occur with trepidation, with the primary concern being if their new coalition will be capable of contending electorally. When the odds of this have looked poor, like after the 2016 and (to a lesser extent) 2020 elections, people have panicked. When the odds of this have looked somewhat better, like after the 2018 and 2022 elections, attitudes shift to somewhere between continued panic and a sort of swaggering optimism about the long-term upside of continued swings.
This is a very particular perspective, wherein the suburban shift is evaluated in accordance to its potential electoral implications instead of ideological ones. While some have worried at various points that an increased reliance on wealthy homeowners to win elections could, in theory, move Democrats to the right on economic issues, these concerns have remained just that: theoretical. In practice, the new state governments and representatives elected off of shifts in the suburbs have proven themselves to be just as, if not more, progressive than their co-partisans in the party’s longtime urban and working class strongholds. The possibility always be worth keeping an eye on, but, as of now, the chance of a full-scale programmatic realignment within the Democratic Party rightfully recognized as being on the back burner.
Among the right, however, the story is far different. They fully view the influx working class voters as marking a major, permanent shift within the Republican Party. And they are completely enraptured by the possibility.
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