His campaign proved that class can be a driver of political behavior and a foundation of redistributive economic policy
The midterm elections last Tuesday blew a hole in conventional political wisdom. The supposed law that the president’s party could never win a midterm. That partisanship was too entrenched for voters to split their tickets between parties at a high rate. That candidate quality and experience no longer mattered. That politics has been so nationalized that the entire country would get more Republican or Democratic together, rather than different climates in different states or regions. The most important myth busted for people with leftwing politics is the impressive win of John Fetterman for Senate in Pennsylvania. Fetterman proved that progressive politics really could win back working class white Trump voters in rural areas.
The idea that populist redistributive economics could win back working class Trump voters has been proposed since immediately after the 2016 election. It made sense ideologically to leftists, but there was no proof of concept until this election. Every attempt at using Medicare for All and anti-elite rhetoric to bring Trump voters in ancestrally Democratic areas back to the party had failed miserably. The platform and messaging of Fetterman, however, led him to a shocking 4.4% win in a state that President Biden won by just 1.1%. The president’s party flipping a Senate seat in a midterm election, let alone quadrupling the president’s winning margin, is incredibly rare. Respected sites like Fivethirtyeight and Sabato’s Crystal Ball viewed Oz as a clear favorite. Beyond this, Fetterman flipped the script on 40 years of partisan trends. Fetterman matched Biden’s margins in highly educated urban and suburban areas that have been getting more Democratic for decades, especially in the Trump era. His surprising winning margin came most of all from drastically improving on Biden’s margins in working class post-industrial and rural areas that had been getting redder for the last few decades, even faster than the suburbs had been getting bluer. How did he do this, and what does this mean for Democrats going forward?
Ben Davis works in political data in Washington, DC. He worked on the data team for the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign