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History Forum: Dorothy Sue Cobble on perceptions of working-class politics

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Vicky Stitch sits in the driver's seat of her snow plow.
City of Minneapolis winter maintenance driver Vicky Stitch sits in the driver's seat of her snow plow in Decmber 2017. Political scientists, candidates and the public are very interested in knowing what the working class thinks and how it plans to vote.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2017

Professor Dorothy Sue Cobble of Rutgers University says there's a misperception that all working-class voters are conservative. There is an equally robust tradition of liberalism among the working class. 

Cobble is a professor of labor studies and a professor of history at Rutgers. She's recently focused her attention on the liberal and conservative voting patterns of the working class, and is concerned that there is too much class stereotyping, intolerance and misunderstanding. 

Cobble says this reinforces the "us versus them tribal symbolic politics” we see today. 

Cobble relies on advice she got from her father, who told her when she was a child growing up in the South, "Don't believe everything you hear about other people."

“The demeaning and devaluing of working classes has once again found fertile ground,” she said.  

“In the end, when negative characterizations of each other are taken as truth,” she said, “it will be hard to find our common interests as Americans and as human beings. In my opinion, what ever our political disagreements, most of us are actually pretty much alike. 

“We want to care for our families, make a contribution to society and be part of a community where we are recognized and valued. As my father would say, we want to be seen as productive and moral individuals and not talked about by people who actually don’t know us that well at all,” Cobble said. “And, we share a commitment to preserving our common heritage of democratic exchange and deliberative debate.” 

Political scientists, candidates and the public are very interested in knowing what the working class thinks and how it plans to vote. Did the working class elect President Trump? Cobble said the middle and upper classes elected Trump, including white people at every income level — not just the working class. 

The working class is now female, Cobble points out, which adds a new dimension to consider in future voting patterns. 

Cobble shared these ideas at the Minnesota Historical Society's History Forum in St. Paul on Nov. 9, 2019.