The Real Trump Voters

Simon Maloy does a good job of distilling the new Gallup data on Trump voters. They aren’t exactly who most people think they are. They’re not as economically distressed or negatively impacted by the loss of manufacturing jobs as is widely assumed, and they’re often more suburban than rural. Counterintuitively, “Gallup found that the only candidate who is viewed consistently positively in areas with higher concentrations of manufacturing jobs is… Hillary Clinton.”

And:

“People living in commuting zones with higher white middle-aged mortality rates are much more likely to view Trump favorably,” Gallup found. The analysis also noted people who live areas that have less “intergenerational mobility” also tend to have higher levels of support for Trump. Basically, if you’re in an area where white people are experiencing consistently poor health outcomes and younger generations are having less success at moving up the economic ladder, then you’re more likely to want to vote for Donald Trump.

Of course, we all know that race plays a major part in Trump’s appeal, but, again, not in the “a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality” kind of way. Trump voters are indeed overwhelmingly white, but they are not generally whites who have had negative experiences with minority crime or even much direct employment competition with immigrants of color.

What Gallup found is that one of the strongest indicators of Trump support is racial isolation: “Constant support for Trump is highly elevated in areas with few college graduates, far from the Mexican border, and in neighborhoods that stand out within the commuting zone for being white, segregated enclaves, with little exposure to blacks, Asians, and Hispanics.”

In other words, white people who live in segregated white suburban communities are much more alarmed about demographic change (the browning of America) than white people who live and work in pluralistic communities. This raises a chicken/egg nurture/nature question, because we don’t know if people gravitate to these communities because of their dislike and fear of minorities or if it’s primarily their racial isolation that breeds misunderstanding and mistrust. What we can be pretty sure about, though, is that they don’t want their communities to change or grow more diverse. They like things the way they are or that they were in the recent past. To them, the “Real” America is the homogeneous America they experience in their day-to-day lives, and outsiders are seen as unwelcome interlopers who should be regarded with suspicion.

The still-fuzzy picture of the “Trump vote” that emerges from all this is a bloc of voters who are acutely sensitive to economic decline (even if they aren’t necessarily feeling it themselves) and are more receptive to hypernationalist and nativist politicking due to their own racial and cultural isolation.

Thus, the typical Trump voter isn’t necessarily a laid off Stars & Bars waving redneck from Steubenville, Ohio. He’s more likely to be a father from a suburban white enclave of Cleveland whose kid can’t move out of the house because he or she can’t find high enough paying work or low enough rent. There’s a good chance that this kid is dabbling in painkillers and opioids brought to his community through Mexican drug traffickers. There’s a whole lot to Trump’s message that speaks to this father (and probably his wife, too), and he’s pissed off, more than anything else, about the bad prospects for his son or daughter.

So, what kind of messages do you think he’s interested in hearing from a Democrat?

I think he wants to know how you’re going to keep Mexican-supplied heroin out of his community, and how you’re going to make it possible for his kid to have the same standard of living and independence that he enjoyed at the same age. Trump offers vague and blunt instruments (building a wall, making deals), but he at least speaks to this man’s anxieties. Quite clearly, the other Republican candidates never did with all their talk of gay marriage and tax cuts and Benghazi.

It shouldn’t be all that surprising that lily-white areas with poor upward social mobility and declining health rates are Trump’s best enclaves of support. At the Washington Monthly, we’ve been hitting on these themes for a couple of years now, most recently in an exclusive from Mike Males, the senior researcher for San Francisco’s Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.

In 2015 – in stark contrast to 1990 – teen gun-related deaths totaled 57, while teen murder arrests numbered 65. Overall in California, the crime rate among teenagers has dropped by 80 percent since 1980 – at the same time immigration has fueled a growing, more racially diverse young population, now 72 percent of color. The school dropout rate has also nosedived, as have births by teen and young-adult mothers. College enrollment and graduation rates have soared. These trends, moreover, are not unique to California. They’re happening nationally.

The flip side of young Americans’ astonishing behavioral turnaround is an equivalently dramatic decline among older Whites. In California, for example, the number of arrests among people over 40 in 2015 was nearly double the number of arrests among Black and Hispanic teens. Nationally, in a shocking reversal of past patterns, a middle-aged White is at greater risk today of violent death (by suicide, accident, or murder, and especially from guns or illicit drugs) than an African American teenager or young adult.

These stunning reversals of fortune among the generations could help explain one of the central mysteries of this year’s election cycle: why two such starkly divergent views of America – Republican Donald Trump’s grim vision of an apocalyptically degenerated America and Democrat Hillary Clinton’s sunny affirmation of a diversifying country’s bright future – are finding equal resonance. The short answer is that both portraits reflect equally valid truths about Americans’ experience today – depending on who and how old you are. While Democrats’ younger, more diverse constituencies are experiencing dramatic improvements in their personal security and behavioral well-being, Trump’s older White demographic is suffering rising drug abuse, crime, incarceration, suicide, gun fatality, and disarray.

The Gallup data on Trump supporters actually tracks quite closely to what we’ve been observing, but that doesn’t mean that Millennials have to live in all-white suburbs to feel that this economy doesn’t work for them. And, no matter where people live, parents are feeling the same way.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.