3 reasons why the white working class feels marginalized

Justin Gest, professor of public policy at George Mason University
Justin Gest, professor of public policy at George Mason University.
Courtesy of Justin Gest

Donald Trump's presidential victory brought into sharp focus the fact that many political analysts don't understand the motivations of America's white working class voters.

Author Justin Gest said he wanted to find out how a demographic that's enjoyed relative wealth and power and benefited from the nation's history of discrimination could feel marginalized. His research became a book, "The New Minority: White Working Class Politics in an Age of Immigration and Inequality."

In a Jan. 18 speech at the Institute for Freedom and Community at St. Olaf College that aired Thursday, on MPR News, Gest argued that there are three key components to how white working class citizens feel marginalized, "rightfully or wrongfully."

1) A sense of outnumbering

In the U.S. white people make up about 68 percent of the population, so objectively they are not outnumbered. "But there is a sense of outnumbering that comes from the relative change in demography," Gest said.

When more people of color move to communities where white people were previously the majority, the white residents do not retain any sense of predominant status, they only see the relative loss of predominance, said Gest.

2) A feeling of being made external

Many of these white working class people feel they no longer have a voice in public policy, business interests and government. In Congress only 2 percent of representatives come from working class backgrounds, and only a fraction of those politicians are white, Gest said.

"The idea that they have a seat at the table as white working class people is a day dream of times lost from their perspective," Gest said. "They feel like they do not have a hand in the government that controls them, that manages their country."

3) A perceived discrimination

Those Gest interviewed said that they felt they were often discriminated against on the basis of being white and on the basis of being poor.

They feel "relegated and dismissed as rednecks, hicks, hillbillies, white trash" and believe "they lose jobs or access to housing or access to social services because of this discrimination," he said.

To listen to the speech, click the audio player above.

Additional content

A Q&A session was held at the Clinton School of Public Service with professor Alan Abramowitz of Emory University. His forthcoming book is "The Great Alignment: Race, Ideology and the Transformation of the American Party System."

To listen to the Q&A, click the second audio player above.

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