For 21-year-old Kaleb Weeter, the Republican Party has become his party of choice and he sees former President Donald Trump as the perfect candidate to lead it.
He recently began paying attention to politics and the state of the economy, and he figures, out of all the options available, Trump “would take the country in the direction that would benefit me in the long run.”
Weeter said he considers himself a working class voter. He works for a moving company temporarily while trying to get a web design business off the ground.
He isn’t the only one among self-identified working class voters who feels this way — Republicans are increasingly winning over the working class, once considered reliable Democratic voters, and Trump, who presents himself as “anti-establishment” and “anti-elite,” has become the face of this movement.
In a recent poll conducted by HarrisX for the Deseret News, 40% of self-identified working class voters said that they feel like the Republican Party best represents their interests and views, while 36% of these voters preferred the Democratic Party.
Nearly 17% said neither party represented them and 7% said both, equally. The poll was conducted from April 18-24, 2023, of 1,981 registered voters, with a margin of error of +/- 2.2 percentage points. For the 336 working class adults, the margin of error is +/- 5.4 percentage points.
The world of academia typically defines the working class by their occupation, income or education, but this survey allowed voters to categorize themselves.
Michael Zweig, a leading scholar in working class studies, defined this demographic as “people who do their jobs under more or less close supervision, who have little control over the pace or the content of their work, who aren’t the boss of anyone.”
This latest poll included a number of people who considered themselves blue-collar but also owned a business, as James M. Curry, a political science professor at the University of Utah, said he observed in the polling data.
“That’s not necessarily a bug. It’s a feature,” he said, especially among white rural and suburban conservatives. “That’s become part of the political identity, which means something different ... from the academic or scholarly sense of what is a working-class or a blue-collar person.”
For Weeter, the web designer who supports Trump, “working class people that are ambitious and motivated to aim higher, are typically rooting for Trump,” he said.
Weeter said Trump understands that “the government’s role is to facilitate growth and prosperity while protecting the nation” and perceives the Republican Party as most motivated to accomplish those goals.
The poll also found that the Democratic Party has gained momentum among upper-middle and upper class voters, with 45% and 56% support, respectively, compared to the 30% and 28%, respectively, who support the Republican Party. The upper and upper-middle classes tend to include individuals who have college degrees and higher incomes.
But Democrats are ramping up their efforts to woo back middle and working class voters.
Consider President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech, where he touted the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act that he said will create “hundreds of thousands of new jobs across the country.”
“Jobs paying $130,000 a year, and many don’t require a college degree,” said Biden. “Jobs where people don’t have to leave home in search of opportunity. And it’s just getting started.”
It’s a different approach than that of his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, who said in his first joint session address to Congress that the U.S. should “once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.” Former first lady Michelle Obama even created an online campaign to try to empower Americans to pursue college.
But Curry argued that Democrats have always pushed hard for economic progress — something that the working class, in particular, values.
“I don’t think it’s a new playbook. I think it’s what Democrats have always done. It’s just now they face the disadvantage of being seen as out of step with ordinary white voters on social and cultural issues,” he explained.
For example, during a rally in Michigan, two days before the 2016 presidential election, Trump said: “We are going to stop the jobs from going to Mexico and China and all over the world.”
“We will make Michigan into the manufacturing hub of the world once again,” he said.
Democrats have another problem going into 2024, but so does the GOP — neither of the parties’ leading candidates are very popular.
In the Deseret News/HarrisX poll, when voters were asked whether Biden should run for a second term in 2024, nearly two-fifths, or 39%, of those surveyed, said he should run while 61% said he should not run.
When the same voters were asked whether Donald Trump should run for president again in 2024, 46% said he should run and 54% said he shouldn’t run.
Jeremy C. Pope, an author and a political science professor at Brigham Young University, said it’s clear neither of the parties are “satisfying the preferences of the public at the moment.”
Another expert, Christopher F. Karpowitz, a political science professor at Brigham Young University and co-editor of the journal Political Behavior, agrees with Pope’s views.
“Voters who responded to this survey are clearly not terribly excited about a repeat of the 2020 election,” he said.
Both Biden and Trump have launched their campaigns, “so they are not dissuaded by the possibility of a rematch in 2024,” Karpowitz said. But there is still 18 months and a primary election between now and the presidential election in 2024.
Biden may not face “serious opposition for the Democratic nomination,” he said, but the same cannot be said for Trump, who is leading in Republican polls.
“There are lingering questions about what will happen as other candidates join the field and as decisions are made about potentially serious criminal indictments in Georgia and with the Mar-a-Lago documents case,” Karpowitz said.
The pool of GOP candidates and hopefuls for 2024 has grown since Trump announced his bid after the midterms last year.
But when working class voters were asked to choose from a list of which politicians best represent their interests and views, here is who working class voters chose:
Former President Donald Trump — 48%.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — 33%.
President Joe Biden — 30%.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont — 25%.
Vice President Kamala Harris — 24%.
Former Vice President Mike Pence — 21%.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. — 14%.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. — 13%.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. — 11%.
Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley — 11%.
To Curry, the political science professor at the University of Utah, these numbers show that Trump and DeSantis, who announced his bid in late May, “tap into a lot of the same voters.”
He said it may be because the two share similar political stances. “This is why DeSantis may, in fact, be struggling right now,” Curry said of DeSantis consistently lagging behind Trump in the polls, because of his inability to draw a distinction between himself and Trump.
Of course, the two also have the most name recognition, which could help explain why they are at the top of the list, Curry added. He speculated that Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who also launched his bid for 2024, may have a better chance among working class voters after the campaign is in full swing and voters become more familiar with him.
Scott grew up in a poor household and shares a story of pulling himself up by his bootstraps, unlike Trump and DeSantis, said Curry.
The South Carolina senator was chosen by 9% of working class voters as one of the politicians who best represents their interests and views. Others with support in the single digits include Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., with 5%; former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, 6%; Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., 7%; and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, 9%.
The Deseret News/HarrisX poll also asked voters why they voted for Trump in 2016 and/or 2020. Among working class voters, here were some of their top three responses:
46% said that he is willing to stand up to Washington.
37% of voters consider him a political outsider.
38% said he delivers on campaign promises.
22% perceive him as a successful businessman.
23% liked his policy proposals.
22% agreed with Trump on an issue that is important to them.
23% don’t like Trump’s opponents.
26% like his campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
25% said he cares about people like them and their needs.
22% like his values.
12% like his personality and style.
2% support him for other reasons.
For Trump supporters, his outsider status and willingness to push back against “elites” seems far more important than any of his policy stances.
Although some say Trump’s background as a billionaire celebrity businessman actually makes him one of the elite, he stopped using the word in a positive sense when he first began campaigning for president.
The word became a descriptor for his targets — “media elites,” “the political elites,” and “the elites who only want to raise more money for global corporations,” he said in various speeches, according to Politico.
His fight against the establishment, and its elites, continues as he tries to keep voters who feel alienated from the American economic system, many of whom identify as part of the working class.
“Change only happens if we plow fearlessly ahead and declare with one voice that the era of woke and weaponized government is over,” Trump told reporters in March, ahead of the Conservative Political Action Conference, per ABC News. “That is our task, that is our mission and this is the turning point and the time for that decision because, as you’ve probably heard me say before, we will not back down, we will not bend, we will not quit, we will not yield.”
Ultimately, Weeter, the web designer who supports Trump, told the Deseret News the former president is someone who isn’t afraid of saying something that may be frowned upon by the public or the media, and this allows him “to do things that others politicians aren’t willing or able to do.”