Riders exit the Boston MBTA green line
Most people in working-class occupations vote conservatively, but bus drivers and other transit workers tended to vote for Clinton in 2016. Steven Senne/AP

States with more working-class voters are solidly red; those with a dominant creative class are solidly blue; service-class heavy states aren’t easily defined.

We typically divide the electoral map into red and blue states, and class is a feature, if not the key feature, in that divide. What we are witnessing is nothing less than a great inversion of America’s political geography. Dating back to FDR and the New Deal, the blue-collar working class once provided the backbone of the Democratic electorate, but today, states with larger working-class populations have swung solidly into the Republican camp. And, blue states have become those where the knowledge, professionals, and cultural workers that make up the creative class predominate.

That’s the key takeaway from an analysis of the connection between class and American politics I conducted with Patrick Adler and Charlotta Mellander. Our analysis looked at the role of class (defined as the kinds of work people do) and voting in the last three presidential elections.

We looked at the correlations between the share of workers that make up the three major classes—the blue-collar working class, the knowledge-based creative class, and the even larger service class—and state voting patterns. The table below details the top states (including Washington, D.C.) with the largest share of the three major classes.

Top Five States With the Highest Share of Workers From Each Class

Creative Service Working
Rank State Share State Share State Share
1 Washington, D.C. 59.0% Nevada 55.8% Wyoming 30.5%
2 Massachusetts 38.9% Florida 52.8% Indiana 29.3%
3 Maryland 36.7% Hawaii 52.1% North Dakota 29.1%
4 Connecticut 36.6% New Mexico 50.0% Kentucky 28.5%
5 Virginia 34.9% Montana 49.2% Alabama 27.5%

Then, we drilled down further examining the correlations between state-by-state voting patterns and the 22 major occupational groups, and the more than 800 individual occupations that make up these classes. As usual, I note that correlation does not mean causation, but only points to associations between variables. Still, the patterns we document suggest the powerful role of class in defining America’s political geography.

States with larger working-class populations positively correlated with voting for Republican presidents. This correlation saw a sizable jump in 2012 and increased again in 2016, but more modestly. This is the culmination of a long-running shift, first identified in the 1970s, by Republican strategist Kevin Phillip’s identification of the so-called “silent majority” of socially conservative blue-collar voters.

How Occupational Class Has Correlated With Vote in Presidential Elections

Democratic Republican
State-Level Occupational Class Obama 2008 Obama 2012 Clinton 2016 McCain 2008 Romney 2012 Trump 2016
Creative Class .46 .66 .72 -.46 -.66 -.73
Working Class -.63 -.75 -.77 .64 .75 .79
Service Class .40 .38 .32 -.40 -.39 -.33

Creative classes correlate with voting for Democratic presidents across the three most recent presidential elections. Again, we see a big jump in 2012 and a smaller one in 2016. These correlations are similar in strength to other markers of class, like education and income. More affluent states with greater shares of college graduates skew blue, while less economically advantaged states with less-educated populations trend red. This blue, creative-class pattern is in line with John Judis and Ruy Texiera’s idea about the increasingly liberal orientation of “ideopolis” cities in which knowledge workers cluster.

But the pattern for service-class locations is more mixed. The service class is the largest class by far, composed of more than 70 million members—more than 45 percent of the workforce—whose members toil in low-wage, precarious work in retail shops, office work, and food service. States with greater shares of service-class workers lean slightly Democratic, but not nearly to the degree creative-class heavy states fall into the Democratic camp or working-class heavy states line up for the Republicans.

In the 2016 election, for example, the service class of the workforce was much more modestly correlated with Clinton support and more modestly negatively correlated with Trump support. Part of the reason is that service-class jobs are more spread out across the nation, and part of it is that service-class jobs tend to cluster alongside professional and knowledge-based jobs in larger cities and metro areas.

How Occupational Composition Correlated With Political Vote in the 2016 Presidential Election

Occupational Group

Clinton

Trump

Business & finance .74 -.75
Arts, design, entertainment, & media .68 -.73
Computers & math .65 -.67
Legal occupations .63 -.62
Management .59 -.64
Protective service .56 -.45
Life, physical, & social science .45 -.54
Community & social services .27 -.38
Architecture & engineering .16 -.26
Education, training, & library .14 -.20
Building & grounds cleaning .05 -.09
Personal care & service .05 -.11
Healthcare support .00 .09
Food preparation & service -.03 -.07
Farming, fishing, & forestry -.11 .06
Office & administrative support -.22 .23
Healthcare practitioners -.33 .47
Sales -.39 .45
Product occupations -.45 .52
Construction & extraction -.57 .45
Transportation & material moving -.64 .71
Installation, maintenance, & repair -.84 .83

See how business and finance jobs correlated with the Clinton vote, compared to how installation, maintenance, and repair jobs correlated with the Trump vote.

America’s class-based political geography comes into sharper view when we look at the 22 major occupational groups that make up these classes. States with large shares of working-class occupations like installation; maintenance and repair; and construction and extraction are solidly red. Interestingly, the occupations which are most closely connected to blue states are among the very highest paying professions, such as business and finance, followed by arts, design, entertainment and media; and computers and math occupations.

Locations with larger shares of working-class occupations again show up solidly in the Republican party. But now a couple of interesting cross-class patterns become apparent. Two service-class occupational geographies line up more modestly in the Democratic column. States with larger shares of higher wage, more unionized occupations like protective services and community and social service occupations, and states with lower-wage, less-unionized jobs like healthcare support and personal care and service occupations, both trend blue. And there is also one creative-class geography that lines up red: doctors and healthcare practitioners. This may reflect their opposition to Obama’s healthcare reforms.

Our class-based political geography becomes even more interesting when we zero in on the more than 800 specific occupations that comprise the U.S. economy. The red state pattern is relatively straightforward. Support for Trump is highly correlated with the state-wide share of blue-collar working class occupations like welders, tractor trailer drivers, bus and truck mechanics, and so on. But Trump support is also correlated with larger shares of service class occupations like cafeteria cooks, parts salespeople, and tellers. Only a few creative-class occupations, such as radiologic technologists and occupational health and safety technicians, correlate with Trump support.

Occupations Most Correlated With Trump Votes

Occupation Class Correlation
Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers Working .74
Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers Working .71
Cooks, Institution and Cafeteria Service .68
Parts Salespersons Service .68
Bank Tellers Service .67
Industrial Machinery Mechanics Working .66
Welding, Soldering, and Brazing Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders Working .64
Tire Repairers and Changers Working .64
Bus and Truck Mechanics and Diesel Engine Specialists Working .63
Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operators Working .60
Electrical Power-Line Installers and Repairers Working .59
Morticians, Undertakers, and Funeral Directors Service .59
First-Line Supervisors of Mechanics, Installers, and Repairers Working .57
Chemical Equipment Operators and Tenders Working .56
Surgical Technologists Creative .55
Maintenance Workers, Machinery Working .55
Electric Motor, Power Tool, and Related Repairers Working .55
Radiologic Technologists Creative .54
Occupational Health and Safety Technicians Creative .54
Meter Readers, Utilities Service .53

The pattern for blue states is a bit more mixed. Clinton support was highly correlated with creative class occupations like medical scientists, market researchers, lawyers, and computer and information system managers. But Clinton support also correlated with some service-class occupations like manicurists/pedicurists and preschool teachers. The only working class occupations to be correlated with the Clinton vote are bus drivers and other transit workers.

Occupations Most Correlated with Clinton Votes

Occupation Class Correlation
Manicurists and Pedicurists Service .71
Medical Scientists, Except Epidemiologists Creative .66
Preschool Teachers, Except Special Education Creative .63
Parking Lot Attendants Service .63
Bus Drivers, Transit and Intercity Working .61
Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists Creative .60
Self-Enrichment Education Teachers Creative .58
Lawyers Creative .57
Marketing Managers Creative .57
Computer and Information Systems Managers Creative .55
Travel Agents Service .54
Public Relations and Fundraising Managers Creative .54
Producers and Directors Creative .53
Computer Systems Analysts Creative .53
Financial Specialists, All Other Creative .53
Landscape Architects Creative .53
Software Developers, Systems Software Creative S.52
Personal Financial Advisors Creative S.52
Financial Managers Creative .52
Architects, Except Landscape and Naval Creative .50

It appears that service-class geographies are most up for grabs politically. Indeed, as states with a large working-class share have largely abandoned it, the Democratic party’s future would seem to lie in a cross-class coalition of the service and creative class areas and voters.

Job categories like retail sales, customer service, personal-care aides, maids and housekeepers, food service workers and more employ millions upon millions of Americans. These jobs are disproportionately held by women, immigrants, and people of color. These are precisely the kinds of occupations and workers that could be galvanized into a Democratic coalition by policies aimed at higher minimum wages, job upgrading, affordable housing, accessible and affordable healthcare, protecting immigrant and minority rights, and a more robust social safety net for less advantaged groups.

The Largest Occupations Not Correlated With Vote Share ( Most Ubiquitous Occupations)

Occupation Class Correlation Employment
Retail Salespersons Service -.03 4,571,060
Customer Service Representatives Service -.04 2,723,850
Secretaries and Administrative Assistants, Except Legal, Medical, and Executive Service -.10 2,320,250
General and Operations Managers Creative -.07 2,198,270
Stock Clerks and Order Fillers Service .09 2,035,360
Personal Care Aides Service .05 1,497,740
Secondary School Teachers, Except Special and Career/Technical Education Creative -.07 1,013,660
Carpenters Working -.08 680,690
Middle School Teachers, Except Special and Career/Technical Education Creative -.03 627,930
Bartenders Service .02 605,610
Substitute Teachers Creative .08 603,010
Packaging and Filling Machine Operators and Tenders Working -.09 391,400
Medical and Health Services Managers Creative .07 333,120
Sales Representatives, Wholesale and Manufacturing, Technical and Scientific Products Service .08 330,460
Dental Assistants Service -.05 329,760
Production, Planning, and Expediting Clerks Service .00 323,240
Child, Family, and School Social Workers Creative .07 302,560
Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers Working -.10 296,190
Civil Engineers Creative .04 289,780
Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors Creative .07 262,380

Forging such cross-class coalitions is an idea that is making headway among some Democratic strategists. Political consultant Stanley Greenberg has pointed to the advantages of using occupation, as opposed to educational level, as a basic building block of a new Democratic electoral coalition. “For the first time, we are asking occupation to try to get at this—and so, I think there really is potential for Democrats to gain here,” he told the New York Times.

When was the last time you heard a major Democratic politician talk about the day-to-day struggles of retail workers, clerical workers, personal care workers, nurses’ aides, orderlies, or bartenders in the same way they talk about the struggles of auto workers or steel workers? Maybe it’s time they should.

CityLab editorial fellow Claire Tran contributed research and editorial assistance to this article.

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