Democrats see themselves and their party as representing and giving voice to all Americans and as seeing a role for government in ensuring opportunity, and a fair balance of power between “the people” and concentrated economic interests, through regulation, advancement of worker rights and oversight. Democrats also see themselves as promoting equality and civil rights. For those outside the party, ‘democrat’ is often associated with being anti- business and free market, pro-big government, and anti-traditional values (e.g., personal responsibility, family, religion.)
For much of the 20th century, the Democratic Party was associated with the working class and the unions. Starting in the late 1960s, many in the working class began to revolt against policies that seemed to come from a progressive intellectual elite rather than the working class themselves. Thus forced racial integration through busing led many southern Democrats to become Republicans and strong Democratic advocacy for abortion alienated many Catholic and Protestant working class religious voters. By the 1980s, the phenomenon of the “Reagan Democrat” was well-established, and some remained Republican.
Today the Democratic Party is often seen as serving the interests of coastal elites against middle America, “fly over country.” Insofar as the Democratic Party is focused on environmental issues and identity politics, more traditional Americans feel very alienated from the party. These battles are often more cultural than economic. This phenomenon has been noted by commentators from both the Left and the Right. From the Left, Thomas Frank has asked, “What’s the matter with Kansas?” in which he speculates on why working class Kansans are voting Republican despite what he regards as a disconnect between their economic interests and their voting behavior. The simple response is that their cultural and religious conservatism is more important to them than are economic issues. From the Right, Charles Murray provided a test in “Coming Apart” to measure the extent to which readers live in a “bubble” in which they are unaware of the culture of middle America.