The 2016 presidential election is revealing a number of splits in the electorate. Men prefer Donald Trump; women prefer Hillary Clinton. Nonwhite voters prefer Clinton; white voters prefer Trump. But the biggest rift, polling regularly suggests, is between white working-class voters — particularly men — and everyone else. They love Trump. Everyone else is much more skeptical.
CNN and the Kaiser Family Foundation surveyed Americans with an eye toward figuring out why that split is so dramatic. We can illustrate it simply, by pulling out the responses when people were asked whether they’d consider voting for one candidate or the other. A majority of white working-class Americans said they would consider voting for Trump but wouldn’t consider voting for Clinton. A majority of whites with college educations and working-class black and Hispanic respondents said they would not consider voting for Trump, but would for Clinton. (The figures below include only registered voters.)
It’s important to recognize what that graph indicates. There are members of each group who might consider either candidate and members who would consider neither. But this suggests that the contest isn’t generally presenting Americans with two candidates they might consider backing. It’s presenting them with one candidate they could vote for and one they wouldn’t ever think about backing. That’s not really much of a choice.
We can pick out three areas that appear to be driving support for Trump. Asked who they blamed for the stagnant economic conditions facing the working class, more than 60 percent of working-class whites said the government bore all or most of the blame. A quarter of working-class blacks put all of the blame at the feet of the government, but a majority felt the government bore some or no blame. A majority of college-educated whites and a plurality of working-class Hispanics agreed.
A majority of all four groups, though, said that Wall Street bore some, but not all or most, of that blame.
That frustration with government clearly drives some of Trump’s support. It’s hard to separate these results from existing support for Trump, but this pattern has been shown in other polls as well. Eighty-four percent of working-class whites said that Washington doesn’t represent their views well. Seven-in-10 feel that international trade agreements signed by past presidents have cost America jobs.
Part of the frustration that working-class black Americans feel about government stems from a feeling that the government isn’t doing enough to improve economic conditions. Asked how they felt about what the government was doing to help racial and ethnic minorities, 7 in 10 black working-class respondents said the government was not doing enough. A plurality of whites said that the government was doing too much in this regard. Only 8 percent of working-class blacks agreed.
Asked about the role of immigrants in American society, a plurality of working-class whites felt that immigrants are a burden because they take jobs or government services. A majority of every other group said immigrants strengthen the country through talent and hard work. Nearly three-quarters of Hispanics made that argument.
Trump’s campaign has focused on how the rigged government and broken immigration system is acting as a roadblock for everyday Americans — an appellation that largely refers to those working-class white voters who support him so enthusiastically. Trump’s rhetoric often intentionally pits that group against others, casting aspersions on Muslims and Hispanic immigrants and having offering a response to the concerns of black voters that often seems to be directed elsewhere. The question is which group will cast a plurality of votes this November: the working-class whites who like Trump — or everyone else.
Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix at the Washington Post