What’s clear from the two parties’ approaches is that Republicans mainly think of the working class as a cultural and racial identity, and not an economic one. Democrats, to be sure, are also leaning into a cultural appeal when they pitch themselves to working-class voters — primarily a populist appeal bent on uniting the working class against corporate greed — but it is still rooted more in economics than any national culture-war issue.
One struggle for Democrats in this messaging war is that cultural and ethnic identities have traditionally mattered more to Americans than class identity. “America is the only country that never had a mass socialist movement or a really successful labor movement on the level of even Canada, much less Europe,” said David Brady, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Riverside. “So I think that America has a sort of skittishness or reluctance to embrace its social class solidarity.” Americans are somewhat divided on class politics: Most say unions have had a positive effect on American life, but many are also skeptical of socialism.
Some Democratic strategists and pundits have argued that Trump was successful because he recognized the anger that the working classes have felt since the Great Recession and because he then channeled it, even if he didn’t have the policies to match. The Democratic strategists, though, argue that they do have such policies.