White Working Class Heroes

Gage SkidmoreWikimedia Commons

After I finished blogging yesterday but before I completed my TPMCafe column, I finally noticed the most remarkable finding in the poll released yesterday by WaPo/ABCNews: In a hypothetical three-way general election contest against Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump would basically run even with them among non-college educated white voters (Bush: 34%; Clinton: 31%; Trump: 31%).

These numbers reinforce my impression that Trump Country is basically the most conservative element of the white working class, especially in the northeast and midwest–basically the kind of voters Sean Trende has argued were underpresented in the 2012 electorate. But beyond that, they show why Trump might pose an existential threat to the Republican Party if he runs as an independent candidate. Mitt Romney won 61% of the non-college educated white vote in 2012. He still lost, and the percentage in this demographic needed by a Republican is gradually going up as its comparative size continues to shrink. Anything remotely like a 34% Republican performance among white working class voters is death on a cracker.

Now perhaps the WaPo/ABC poll is an outlier, or perhaps it just happened to capture the Trump boom at its peak, from which his standing is already falling precipitously, or maybe he’ll get bored with spending his money on politics and go back to his various business enterprises instead of wrecking the GOP with an independent run. But it’s now clear why Republicans have been afraid of Trump, and why they now seem determined to kill his candidacy early in the cycle.

The emergence of Trump as a white working class hero is the latest twist in the discussion of this demographic on which we have spent a fair amount of time here at WaMo. It will be fascinating to see what happens to white non-college educated voters when ballots are actually cast in the primaries and in November 2016.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.