A worker serves customers at a New York diner as the result of the 2016 U.S. presidential election is shown on a TV screen.
A worker serves customers at a New York diner as the result of the 2016 U.S. presidential election is shown on a TV screen. Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

What do the three classes think about issues like gun control, immigration, women’s rights, and unionization?

Class remans a signature axis of American life. Writing here last week, I outlined the great “class inversion” of American politics as the locations of the working class have turned red, while the locations of the more advantaged creative class trend blue. But the geography of the service class—which is the largest class, comprising more than 45 percent of American workers—remains up for grabs.

This week, I take a look at the political attitudes of these three major classes. My colleague at the University of Toronto, Patrick Adler, used recent data from panels of the General Social Survey (GSS), a broad survey of America’s attitudes on a wide range of issues. He compared the attitudes of these three classes on issues such as immigration, women’s rights, gay rights, abortion, and unionization. The results show that the service class lines up more closely with the creative class on some issues and with the working class on others.

table of the responses different classes have to social and labor issues
(Madison McVeigh/CityLab)

Generally speaking, the service class tends to align with the creative class on certain cultural issues, including gun control, one of the most controversial issues in American politics today. In fact, a slightly higher share of service-class members support gun permits than their creative-class counterparts. That said, the service class breaks with the creative class on abortion rights. Just 37 percent of its members support a woman’s right to abortion under any circumstances, which is closer to the one-third or so of working-class members who do, and quite a bit less than the more than half of the creative class who support abortion rights.

The service class also lines up with the creative class on gay rights. Over half of service-class members believe gay people should have the right to marry. That is less than the 60-plus percent of creative-class members who say so, but quite a bit more than the 38 percent of the working class who agree.

But the service class tends to align more closely with the working class on bread-and-butter economic issues, like unionization and protection of workers’ interests and rights.

Nearly half of service-class respondents say that “workers need strong trade unions to protect their interests”—about the same as members of the working class, and considerably more than the 38 percent of the creative class that agrees. This is likely related to the fact that most managers are in the creative class.

The service class is out in front on three issues. It’s most likely to say that employers should hire and promote women. This is likely because the service class is disproportionately made up of women. It’s also the class most likely to say that society is “spending too little on childcare.” This probably reflects that members of the service class have lower incomes and a relatively high percentage of female-headed families.

That said, the service class is the least positive on the benefits of immigration, perhaps because immigrants are most likely to compete for service-class jobs. Still, just over half the members of the service class say that “immigrants are good for America.”

In a previous post, I made the case that the Democrats should rethink their strategy of trying to win back the blue-collar working class and its states and instead try to build a new cross-class coalition of the creative and service classes. As I noted, Democratic strategist Stanley Greenberg says it’s time the Democrats begin to think in such terms.

The takeaway for Democrats looking to appeal to those in the service class would be that they should focus their message on social issues and access to the labor market for women and families, opportunity for working women, the availability and affordability of childcare, more affordable housing, and greater assistance to cities.

CityLab editorial fellow Nicole Javorsky contributed research and editorial assistance to this article.

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