The Atlantic Politics Daily: Where Working-Class Voters Stand

Joe Biden’s electability argument fell apart in Iowa. Plus: what the moment of reunion feels like for a military spouse.

It’s Friday, February 7. Tonight’s Democratic debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, will begin at 8 p.m. EST.

In the rest of today’s newsletter: Joe Biden’s electability argument fell apart in Iowa. Plus: what the moment of reunion feels like for a military spouse.



The Biden Base that Ghosted Him

Politicians from Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump have placed their support for working class Americans front and center while on the campaign trail.

But in 2020, it’s Joe Biden who’s touted his working-class support as a key part of his case for why he alone was best-positioned to beat Trump. On Monday in Iowa, his theory got put to the test. While the caucus results rolled out in pure chaos, one thing was clear: the voters Biden was counting on went to someone else.

As my colleague Elaine Godfrey, a native Iowan, has reported, the state has more Obama-turned-Trump counties than any other. Biden prevailed in just one of them.

Here’s what one person told her:

“Biden wants to go back to the way it was before [Donald] Trump, but things weren’t working all that well then, either,” Lonnie Herbert, a 50-year-old forklift driver, told me when I asked why he and his neighbors hadn’t supported the former vice president. Sure, Sanders is a bit radical, he added, but America needs “a hard shift.”

“Working class” encompasses far more than the narrow subset of voters that parachuting reporters seek out in proverbial Midwestern diners (apologies for the journalism cliché). And as my colleague Emma Green has pointed out, Trump did win working-class white voters by a large margin—but they didn’t necessarily flock to him for economic reasons:

Besides partisan affiliation, it was cultural anxiety—feeling like a stranger in America, supporting the deportation of immigrants, and hesitating about educational investment—that best predicted support for Trump.

The president has had less success with minority working-class voters: Just 7 percent of non-college-educated African Americans voted for him in 2016, for instance. Without a lift in those communities, Trump still faces tough reelection prospects.

Another subset of working-class voters may prove crucial this year: white women. While blue-collar white men remain reliably for Trump, his support among blue-collar women isn’t so robust. These voters could also tilt the final outcome in November.

—Saahil Desai

(Win McNamee / Getty)

Tonight’s Democratic debate features seven candidates. Here’s where we last left them:

Joe Biden: What happened in Iowa? Biden’s camp seemed not to accept the warning signs.

Pete Buttigieg: “Despite all the attention paid to his candidacy, people still miss how aggressive Buttigieg is,” Edward-Isaac Dovere writes.

Bernie Sanders: Victorious with working-class Iowa, and unfazed by the “bros” supporting his campaign.

Tom Steyer: The billionaire. Not that one.

Elizabeth Warren: The progressive senator doesn’t talk about her Republican past. Would doing so help her distinguish herself?

Andrew Yang: He did poorly in Iowa. Still, his campaign’s had impact: Yang’s rise to prominence has helped “dampen the conservative drift of Asian Americans.”


(Stephen Morton / Getty)

What a Reunion Moment Feels Like

She’d hoped for, maybe even envisioned, a big, sweeping reunion at the airport. But at the precise moment of her husband’s return from war, fanfare was the last thing she wanted.

Rebekah Gleaves Sanderlin writes:

A moving moment during Tuesday’s State of the Union address came when a military wife and her two young children were reunited with their soldier, just home from war. The reunion was a surprise for the mother and her children, and for the audience. Members of Congress cheered for three minutes and eight seconds of pure, bipartisan joy. I was happy for the family, of course. But I also felt nervous.

I’ve been a military spouse for 17 years. I know reunions very well; they are a tangle of sometimes conflicting emotions. Can I tell you what a military reunion is like for the person at home?

Read the rest.


Today’s newsletter was written by Saahil Desai, an editor on the Politics desk, and edited by Shan Wang, who oversees newsletters.

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