Many presidential primary voters feel free trade has marginalized their jobs and prospects
Tuesday’s primary elections underscored an emerging, central reality of the 2016 presidential campaign: This is the year of the angry white male.
Those white males are the voters who propelled Donald Trump to convincing victories Tuesday in Michigan and Mississippi, as they have elsewhere. And they may determine whether he can roll on next week in a series of big industrial states.
Here’s what is less noticed: Dissatisfied white males also helped propel Sen. Bernie Sanders to a stunning victory over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic contest in Michigan, and may keep him in the game for many weeks to come.
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All of this further suggests they may be the swing voters who decide the general election in November, when the critical question could well be whether Democrats can win enough of them to supplement their big advantages among women and minority voters.
The effect was most obvious in watching Mr. Trump roll up two more big wins Tuesday. In Michigan, 52% of the Republican primary electorate was male, exit polls indicated. Mr. Trump won them going away, 43% to 23% for Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Meantime, he lost among women, 30% for Sen. Ted Cruz to 28% for Mr. Trump.
The story was similar in Mississippi. Mr. Trump won men by 20 percentage points, exit polls indicated. There, he won women, but by a mere 9 percentage points.
So, the more male the Republican electorate, the better for Mr. Trump. Also, the angrier as well.
In Mississippi, 41% of Republicans described their feelings toward the federal government as “angry”—and Mr. Trump won a whopping 57% of them. Meanwhile in Michigan, 32% of Republican voters said they were angry at the federal government, and Mr. Trump won 48% of them, compared with 24% for Mr. Cruz.
And what are these folks angry about? Here’s a pretty good clue:
When voters were asked in Michigan whether trade with other countries creates jobs or takes away jobs, just over half of GOP respondents said it takes away jobs—this is in the Republican Party that once was the bastion of strong belief in free trade. And among those who see trade as a job killer, Mr. Trump won going away, 42% to 23% for Mr. Cruz.
Here’s a bit more evidence that the Trump army is made up of people angry over the belief the economy has left them behind: Among white college graduates in Michigan, he lost to Mr. Kasich. But among whites without a college degree, he won by almost 20 percentage points.
Perhaps more interesting, angry white males are sustaining the Sanders campaign, not just the Trump campaign.
In Michigan, they kept him nearly even with Mrs. Clinton, offsetting her big advantage among women and among minorities. Among women, exit polls indicate, he finished just behind Mrs. Clinton. But among men, he won easily, 54% to 44%.
Like Mr. Trump, he seemed to do especially well among those who consider themselves stuck outside the economic mainstream. Among those who considered income inequality the top issue, he beat Mrs. Clinton 60% to 39%. And among those who think trade takes away jobs, he won 56% to 43%.
Together, in other words, Messrs. Trump and Sanders are collapsing what had become, in the 1990s, something of a bipartisan consensus in favor of free trade. And angry white males, many of whom feel trade has marginalized their jobs and prospects, are leading the way.
In the end, it may well be that these voters are sufficient to propel Mr. Trump to the GOP nomination; we may well know for sure after primaries next week in the big industrial states of Ohio, Illinois and Missouri. But they probably aren’t enough to carry Mr. Sanders to the Democratic nomination.
Which would set up a fascinating battle in the fall. In a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, Mrs. Clinton beats Mr. Trump in a hypothetical general-election matchup, 51% to 38%. But among white men? He wins comfortably, 53% to 35%.
Could he hold on to such an advantage, and build up elsewhere? Or would she eat into and undermine his clearest pillar of strength? On such questions may November’s outcome be decided.