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What's the Matter with What's the Matter with Kansas?

  • Larry M. Bartels 1

[1]Larry M. Bartels, Department of Politics and Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, bartels@princeton.edu

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Table of contents

Who is Frank Writing About?
Has the White Working Class Abandoned the Democratic Party?
Do "Values Matter Most" to the White Working Class?
"Wedge Issues" in 2004
Is the Democratic Party Pursuing a "Criminally Stupid Strategy"?
A "Mysterious Inversion" Inverted
References

Quarterly Journal of Political Science

(Vol 1, Issue 2, 2006, pp 201-226)

DOI: 10.1561/100.00000010

Abstract

Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas? asserts that the Republican Party has forged a new "dominant political coalition" by attracting working-class white voters on the basis of "class animus" and "cultural wedge issues like guns and abortion." My analysis confirms that white voters without college degrees have become significantly less Democratic; however, the contours of that shift bear little resemblance to Frank's account. First, the trend is almost entirely confined to the South, where Democratic support was artificially inflated by the one-party system of the Jim Crow era of legalized racial segregation. (Outside the South, support for Democratic presidential candidates among whites without college degrees has fallen by a total of one percentage point over the past half-century.) Second, there is no evidence that "culture outweighs economics as a matter of public concern" among Frank's working-class white voters. The apparent political significance of social issues has increased substantially over the past 20 years, but more among better-educated white voters than among those without college degrees. In both groups, economic issues continue to be most important. Finally, contrary toFrank's account, most of his white working-class voters see themselves as closer to the Democratic Party on social issues like abortion and gender roles but closer to the Republican Party on economic issues.