The Debate over Bernie Sanders' Working Class Tweet

November 15th 2016

Kyle Jaeger

On Monday, a tweet from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders sparked a debate about the Democratic Party's relationship working class white voters. He wrote, "I come from the white working class, and I am deeply humiliated that the Democratic Party cannot talk to the people where I came from."

Sanders spoke frequently about both working class concerns and racial injustice during his campaign, even stating on his campaign website that "it is necessary to try to address the rampant economic inequality while also taking on the issue of societal racism." However, some Twitter users interpreted the senator's tweet as an attempt to make whites the primary focus of the party.

Twitter users might be taking the wrong message from Sanders' tweet. 


Sanders' comments underscored a key takeaway from last week's election. Low turnout among white working class voters contributed significantly to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's defeat, as ATTN:'s Mike Vainisi wrote. Exit polls showed that 67 percent of white voters without college degrees favored President-elect Donald Trump compared to Clinton's 28 percent. In 2012, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won 61 percent to President Barack Obama's 36 percent. In a close election, the extra margin enjoyed by Trump meant a lot.

Where Democrats seemed to fail this election was in mobilizing working class voters in general. Obama's performance in 2008 and 2012 — when he won more white, black, and Latino voters than Clinton, according to early exit poll data — reinforces that point.

"[W]hite working-class and rural voters without a college degree are not the poorest of Americans, but they are the most pessimistic about their future prospects," historian Stephanie Coontz wrote for CNN last week.

"A full half expect their children's lives will be worse than their own, and less than a quarter expect their children to do better. In stark contrast to blacks and Hispanics without a college education, most don't believe they would be better off if they had earned a four-year college degree. Clinton's promise of free college didn't resonate with them.

Clinton was simply unable to capitalize on the economic anxieties of working class Americans as well as Trump, Coontz explained.

However, the question for future Democratic candidates is not how they can replicate Trump's working class appeal, but how they can replicate Obama's.