One of the oldest divisions on the left - expressed by thinkers ranging from Merle Haggard down to Maurice Glasman - has been that between a liberal "metropolitan elite" and a socially conservative working class. Some new research validates the Marxian theory that this divide has an economic base.
Marko Pitesa and Stefan Thau first manipulated subjects' perceptions of their income by inviting some to compare themselves to high incomes ($500,000 per month) and others to low incomes ($500 per month). They found that people primed to believe they had low incomes then expressed harsher judgments about violent acts than those who were primed to think themselves rich.
This, they say, supports the idea that when people feel themselves to be poor, they feel more vulnerable to others' harmful acts, and this caises them to make harsher judgments about them. If you can afford to replace your iPod you'll be less censorious of muggers than if you can't. If you're driving your children around all the time, you'll be less hysterical about paedophiles than if your kids have to walk everywhere. And so on.
Thanks to the work of Ben Friedman, we should know by now that economic insecurity creates intolerance. This paper provides experimental evidence of microfoundations for this. That's progress.
Now, we should distinguish here between the extent of illiberal opinions and the intensity of them. Surveys suggest that working class folk aren't much more opposed to immigration, drug legalization or gay marriage than richer people. But this is quite consistent with them having more intense feelings. Gillian Duffy's antipathy towards immigrants is, sadly, shared by the middle class; the difference is the vehemence with which those opinions were expressed.
I say all this to make two points.
First, moral judgments are influenced by our economic positions. Marx was right to say that "the mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life." For more evidence of this, consider Matteo Cervellati and Paolo Vanin's discussion of how moral norms are shaped by family wealth.
Secondly, when liberal leftists complain about working class illiberalism, they should remember that the failing here lies not (just) with the working class themselves, but in social democracy itself. This has - so far - failed to sufficiently reduce the sense of vulnerability among the poor which produces illiberal attitudes.