It is taken as virtual gospel among progressives that Democrats once had a lock on white working class voters, but that position quickly eroded in the 1990s and later as party leaders pursued cuts to social programs, Wall Street deregulation, and anti-union trade agreements.
But what if the Democratic position among the white working class hasn't eroded at all outside the south? What if, even as Democratic Party economic policies undeniably became more obsequious to the one percent, the entire Democratic decline among the white working class can be attributed to Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy"?
In a paper (PDF) published on the eve of the 2012 election, political scientist Elisabeth Jacobs presented compelling data pointing to that exact conclusion:
On average, Democratic presidential candidates prospects with self-identified white working class voters have diminished somewhat over time. ... Yet, the downward trend in Democratic presidential vote choice between 1956 and 2008 is concentrated amongst the Southern white working class. ... White working class presidential party vote choice for non-Southerners is remarkably stable over time; if anything, the period between 1984 and 2008 has been one of improvement for the Democrats amongst this group. The opposite is true in the South. Prior to the 1960s rights revolutions (including, most notably for the South, the major upheavals of the Civil Rights Movement), a strong majority of the Southern white working class voted for Democratic candidates. Southern white working class voting appears to have settled into a basic equilibrium with Reagan's 1984 election, with the notable exception of an uptick for Clinton's first election in 1992, and again for Obama's 2008 election gambit.
More from Jacobs: