What do Reagan's Democrats, Thatcher's Essex man, Howard's battlers and Harper's Tim Horton voters have in common?
By Tim Montgomerie
Last week Paul Goodman set out a policy recipe for addressing the 'squeezed middle'. He recommended (1) less immigration; (2) more homes; (3) more places in good schools; (4) cuts in the standard rate of income tax; and (5) sales of shares in the nationalised banks, the Post Office and other state-owned companies.
“I soon realized that working-class voters exhibit similar traits in other countries as well. Ask an American working-class voter why he supports Democrats, and he or she is likely to say it’s because Democrats support “the little guy.” Reading about English voters in Claire Berlinski’s biography of Margaret Thatcher, There Is No Alternative, I found the exact same phrase used by English miners to describe their support for Labour. When I found the same phrase being used by Australian working-class voters to describe their attraction to the Australian Labour Party, I decided I needed to learn more.
So I reached out to Patrick Muttart, former chief of staff to Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper. Muttart is perhaps the world’s leading expert on working-class voters in English-speaking countries, having studied their behavior and attitudes not only in Canada but also in Britain, Australia, and America. He has found that in each country, working-class voters may form the base for successful center-left governments but are crucially responsible for the rise of center-right leaders like Harper, Australia’s John Howard, and Margaret Thatcher.
He was kind enough to speak with me at length. He emphasized that working-class voters do not fit neatly on the traditional left-right continuum. They are fiscally conservative, wanting low rates of taxation and wanting government to live within its means, but economically populist, suspicious of trade, outsourcing, and high finance. They are culturally orthodox but morally moderate, in the sense that they don’t feel their lives will change much because of how social issues play out. They are patriotic and supportive of the military, but suspicious of foreign adventures.
Most importantly, they are modest in their aspirations for themselves. They do not aspire to be “type A business owners”; they want to go to work, do what’s asked of them, not have too much stress in their lives, and spend time with their families. They want structure and stability in their lives so that things are taken care of and they don’t have to worry.
Drawing on Muttart’s insights and my own thinking, I believe there are seven salient values or tendencies that are common to working-class voters across the decades. Call them the Seven Habits of the Working Class. They are:
(1) Hope for the future
(2) Fear of the present
(3) Pride in their lives
(4) Anger at being disrespected
(5) Belief in public order
(7) Fear of rapid change…”