It’s not the economy, stupid
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but apparently, the hot new demographic in political reporting is now the “white working-class,” by which most media stories mean, “old white guys who complain about how they were able to get a job at the mill straight out of high school back in 1962 and now blame ‘the Mexicans’ for ‘stealing jobs.’” Every freaking political strategist in the country is eager to tell the Democrats how they can capture the white working-class vote with a mixture of economic populism and blithely ignoring everyone who isn’t a white straight dude.
Well, I grew up in Youngstown, OH, spiritual home of the white working-class stereotype, and I gotta tell you—now, brace yourself—Trump was not propelled into the presidency by earnest factory workers who are concerned about feeding their families. Trump was propelled into the presidency by middle-class old people who drive SUVs and don’t like change.
Let’s look at the exit polling from 2016, shall we?
- People under 44 overwhelmingly voted for Clinton. People 18-29 voted for Clinton 55-36; people 30-44 voted for Clinton 51-41. The people who handed Trump the election are not people who have their entire working lives ahead of them. They’re largely people who are retired or want to be retired.
- Union households (which include much of the “white working-class”) voted for Clinton 51-43.
- It’s true that “the economy” was the most popular response when people were asked about their top issue; 52% of people chose that option. But guess what? People who voted based on “the economy” voted for Clinton 52-41. What were the top reasons for Trump voters? “Immigration” (33-64) and “Terrorism” (40-57). Now think carefully about what Trump has said about those two topics, and tell me why you think a person would vote for Trump based on what he has said about those things. Think really, really hard.
- My absolute favorite, though, is the income breakdown: People who make less than $50,000/year voted for Clinton 53-41. Trump only won with people who make between 50K and 100K (he tied with Clinton among wealthier voters). Since the median family income in the US in 2016 was 59,000, we can see that it was the middle class that voted for Trump, not the trailer park folks.
We love to blame poor people for everything in America, and traditionally it’s been Republicans doing the blaming. Poor people are lazy! They’re takers! They don’t pay their own way! BOOTSTRAPS! But Democrats have been getting into the act now, too. Poor people elected Trump! They’re stupid! They’re selfish! They don’t know how deeply they’re screwing themselves!
Except, well, the poor didn’t do this. People who are worried about homelessness or putting food on the table didn’t do this. This is the fault of older, mostly retired, middle-class men who complain about young people wearing saggy pants. Statistically speaking, Trump wasn’t elected by desperate laid-off steelworkers or single-mom waitresses with three kids to feed. He was elected by your angry Great Uncle Stan who owns a boat and a house but complains about young people who want “free college” and thinks “reverse racism” is a thing.
The poor have enough to worry about. Don’t blame them for Trump, too.