The 2016 presidential campaign has generated a lot of media coverage speculating on the role of social class in the upcoming presidential election. Philip Bump’s article, “Donald Trump’s strategy centers on working-class whites, but even they don’t like him” at The Fix provides an informative update on the speculation, as both parties prepare for their nominating conventions. As Bump notes,
Donald Trump’s reasonable argument* for how he’ll win in November centers on white, blue-collar voters — the sort of voters he thinks can propel him to victories in the Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. (Sometimes, Wisconsin gets looped into that list, but that looks unlikely at the moment.)
Winning white, blue-collar voters doesn’t necessitate that those voters like him, of course, but it would help. And while that group (loosely defined as whites without a college degree) likes Trump better than anyone race/education split, more than half still view him unfavorably.
Bump goes on to note that a majority of white men without college degrees view Trump favorably. It’s white working-class women women who tilt his unfavorables upward with the working-class demographic.
All of this is rendered somewhat problematic by defining adults without college degrees as working-class, excluding many who have college degrees — or “some college” in some definitions — who are working at jobs that are essentially working-class. Quite a few recent college graduates, for example, are waiting on tables, walking dogs, driving cabs and doing other jobs most would consider essentially blue collar work.
There are also skilled — and even unskillled — manual workers with no college degree who are making more money and living more upscale lives than adjunct professors, for example. I know a former adjunct professor at a community college who quit her job because she could easily make more money stitching together dog-walking and baby-sitting gigs.
As always, the reality is more complicated than the simplistic definition, which is more intended for ‘ballpark’ socio-economc and political analysis. That should be kept in mind when pondering generalizations about political attitudes. The point is to get a rough idea about how social class is affecting American politics. In Trump’s unique case, gender clearly provides the pivot point that qualifies even simplistic generalizations about ‘the white working-class’ vote.
Further, let’s not assume that Trump voters can all be correctly pidgeon-holed into any one social class. As Dave Anderson notes in a Boulder Weekly op-ed,
Nate Silver, in a May 3 posting on his FiveThirtyEight website, says Trump voters are economically better off than most Americans: “The median household income of a Trump voter so far in the primaries is about $72,000, based on estimates derived from exit polls and Census Bureau data. That’s lower than the $91,000 median for Kasich voters. But it’s well above the national median household income of about $56,000. It’s also higher than the median income for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters, which is around $61,000 for both.”
Bump also points out that working-class disapproval of Hillary Clinton remains high. Clinton’s campaign strategy of keeping a relatively low media profile up till now, while Trump self-destructed, has begun changing in a big way. As the Democratic nominee, she will be increasingly visible leading up to November, and voters will get a much better look at her impressive qualifications in stark comparison to Trump.
By November, Trump’s shrinking constituency could be reduced to a hard core of mostly white male ideologues of all social classes. In that event, a wave election favoring Democrats will become a reality.