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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

April 20: Do White Working Class Voters Care That Much About Comey and Stormy?

During a week that featured a heavy dose of Trump scandal coverage, one of my favorite journalists, Ron Brownstein, wondered how it was all going over in different demographic groups. It was an important enough of a question that I wrote about it at New York:

[A] lot of things about the man who became the 45th president that worry upscale Republicans (and their elite #NeverTrump representatives) just don’t matter as much to the white working-class folk who have provided Trump’s sturdiest base of support. Some of it may have to do with news consumption habits: If you watch Fox News rather than read National Review, you got a very different impression of the options available to conservative-leaning voters in 2016.

It’s also entirely possible that white working-class voters are more cynical than their more highly educated counterparts about the moral tone of politicians who are not named Trump; “They’re all crooks” is a pretty common sentiment in those circles. In any event, this is a question that is not important strictly as a matter of retrospectively figuring out how a man of Trump’s character and background managed to get himself elected in the first place; as Ron Brownstein observes, it may well determine the political impact of the continuing Trump scandals we are hearing about nearly every day:

“All three national polls released this week placed Trump’s approval rating among whites without a college degree below his commanding two-thirds in 2016. But he remained positive with those voters overall, and in each survey they preferred Republicans over Democrats for Congress by at least 13 percentage points. That’s despite last week’s nonstop news about Comey’s new book; the continued sparring between Trump and Daniels, the adult film star; and the FBI’s raid on Cohen, the president’s longtime ‘fixer.'”

Trump is taking much more of a beating among college-educated white voters, who are also an important part of his coalition, and that’s not surprising. They are to some extent Comey voters:

“Comey embodies precisely the voters the GOP has been shedding under this president—even despite his unusually personal reasons to recoil from a Trump-led party. The former FBI director, after all, is a white man with a post-graduate education who’s long leaned Republican.”

Brownstein thinks this is a problem for Democrats not just because white working-class voters are relatively indifferent to evidence that Trump is a little bit piggy and a little bit thuggy. The saturation media coverage of the president’s scandals is also interfering with anti-Trump messaging about his broken promises to precisely this element of the electorate. To put it bluntly, if all these voters hear is the familiar tale they’ve heard for years about Trump’s womanizing and shady business practices, they may not hear more compelling information about Trump selling them out to Wall Street and gorging himself and his rich friends on the perks of public office.

A vote is a vote, of course, and losses among college-educated voters may (particularly if supplemented by less dramatic losses among non-college-educated voters) be enough to give Trump a black eye and Democrats control of the U.S. House. But as Brownstein notes, a significant erosion of support among Trump’s white working-class base could represent the difference between a modest and a large Democratic victory: “For a sunny outcome this fall, Democrats probably need more health care and taxes—and less Comey and Stormy.”

As we continue to absorb data on the larger-than-originally-realized size of the white working-class portion of the electorate, this is a dynamic worth watching closely. As much as the chattering classes may marvel at the ever-increasing evidence of the president’s corruption, outrage doesn’t earn the outraged any extra votes.

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