Miller Center

Christopher Cimaglio

Communications, University of Pennsylvania

"Contested Majority: The Representation of the White Working Class in US Politics from the 1930s to the 1990s"

Cimaglio photo

“Contested Majority” examines how American politicians, journalists, pollsters, academics, social movement groups, and others have studied, written about, and claimed to speak for white working class people and how this work has shaped American politics. While popular and scholarly accounts of the rise and decline of liberalism and the rise of conservatism in the twentieth century US have often given the white working class a very prominent role (for instance, as the New Deal’s popular base and the forefront of the white reaction that provided an electoral majority for conservatives), this work sometimes frames the white working class as a homogenous group with uniform political views—centered, since the late 1960s, on cultural and racial conservatism.  Placing primary emphasis on how white workers have been represented in national politics and media and those who have represented them, “Contested Majority” offers a different angle on a familiar story.  It traces how prominent understandings of white working class politics, identity, and culture—from a militant, progressive working class combating economic royalists to culturally conservative and racially anxious “Middle Americans” and “Reagan Democrats” opposed to liberal elites—emerged, circulated, impacted political contestation, and shaped elite decision-making.  In doing so, “Contested Majority” points to the power of the white working class majority as a political symbol, one that has consistently featured in debate around fundamental issues in American politics, including the legitimacy of capitalism, unions, challenges to prevailing understandings of race, gender, and class, and an activist state combating inequality.

Fellowship year: 2017

Mentor: Jefferson Cowie

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