At the 2004 Democratic Convention, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts thought he was speaking to the middle class when he invoked Dave McCune, the steelworker who “saw his job sent overseas and the equipment in his factory literally unbolted, crated up and shipped thousands of miles away.” But on Election Day, Kerry lost middle-income voters by 6 points and the white middle class by a staggering 22 points.
Buried in this loss is a lesson for Democrats, the self-described party of the middle class. Democrats are correct in thinking that the middle class is anxious. But they have habitually lost middle-income voters because they misunderstand the sources of that anxiety. And what they offer in response seems out of touch with average people’s lives.