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New Study Reveals Crucial Element Of Trump’s Base

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Much has been written about President Donald Trump’s appeal among downscale white voters who live in the American Rust Belt. One of the most famous lines of Trump’s 2016 campaign was “I love the poorly educated,” and he continues to enjoy strong support among white males without a college degree.

But New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall stresses that there is one group that the media often overlook when analyzing Trump’s base of support: whites who have a higher income but lack a college degree.

The phrase “downscale whites” has often been used in connection with Trump’s base. But Edsall, analyzing a recent report from political scientists Herbert Kitschelt and Philipp Rehm, stresses that it is quite possible for whites who never went to college to have a higher income — not wealthy, but comfortably middle class.

And those who fit that description are an important part of Trump’s base.

“Perhaps most significant, Kitschelt and Rehm found that the common assumption that the contemporary Republican Party has become crucially dependent on the white working class — defined as whites without college degrees — is overly simplistic,” Edsall explains. “Instead, Kitschelt and Rehm find that the surge of whites into the Republican Party has been led by whites with relatively high incomes.”

And those higher-income whites, Edsall stresses, don’t necessarily have college degrees.

“High-income whites without college degrees were swing voters 60 years ago, pursued by both parties,” Edsall notes. “Now, they are rock-ribbed Republicans.”

In an e-mail, Kitschelt told Edsall, “Unlike much of the current debate, the ‘white working class’ — concentrated in the low-education/low-income sector of the white population — is not the category that has most ardently realigned toward Republicans. It’s higher income/low-education whites who are currently still doing well, but fear that in the Knowledge Society, their life chances are shrinking as high education becomes increasingly the ticket to economic and social success.”

Nonetheless, Edsall notes, low-income whites without college degrees are still an important part of Trump’s base.

“In the 1950s and ‘60s,” Edsall recalls, “low-income whites without degrees formed the base of the Democratic Party. Now, this group leans Republican.”

Meanwhile, Edsall reports, another demographic has become increasingly important to the Democratic Party: whites who are college-educated but low-income. That demographic was almost unheard of 60 or 70 years ago, when a college degree practically guaranteed a decent income.

“Two generations ago, there were almost no low-income whites with college degrees, a group that made up 1.5 percent of white voters in 1952,” Edsall observes. “These voters were a swing bloc without firm commitment to either party. By 2016, this constituency had grown to form 14.3 percent of all voters. They have, in turn, become the most loyal white Democratic constituency.”

Looking ahead to 2020, Edsall asserts that the next presidential race “may well prove to be a base-vs.-base election.” But he quickly adds that “the outcome may lie in the hands of the substantial proportion of the electorate that is undecided: 7 percent, according to Pew.”

Data Show Most Trump Voters Were Middle Income, Not ‘Working Class’

In the months since Donald Trump’s stunning presidential victory, media outlets have obsessed over his voters—who they are and what their motivations might have been. Many have credited his win to “working-class whites,” a segment of society that has been laid low by opioid addiction and income inequality, in part because it made a compelling narrative.

The data tell a different story. According to an analysis by the Washington Post, Trump’s voting bloc was primarily comprised of middle- and upper-income Americans. An NBC poll of Trump voters from March 2016 showed that only one-third of his supporters had incomes lower than $50,000, while the other two-thirds made more than $50,000.

A similar trend arose in the general election as well. According to the American National Election Study, 35 percent of people who said they voted for Trump had household incomes under $50,000. The other two-thirds of Trump voters “came from the better-off half of the economy.”

According to a new report, despite what Ivanka Trump says, her father's administration isn't doing much for families of people who voted for him. A report from the Center for American Progress says that in swing counties won by Trump in the 2016 election, a family of four with two young children would only take in an additional $5.55 a year under Trump's tax plan if they spend an average of $6,037 per year on child care. The reason for this is that Trump's child care proposal is nothing more than a tax credit based on an assumption that families can afford to pay the full cost out of pocket.

Another component of the “working-class whites” narrative was the lack of a college education among most Trump voters, as 69 percent of his supporters in the general election did not have a college degree. But polling data from NBC also showed that about 70 percent of Republicans had not graduated from a college or university, so that number was not an aberration.

It is also the case that the lack of a college degree is not intrinsically tied to a person’s income—less education does not necessarily equate to being a member of the poor or working class. Only 25 percent of Trump voters were white people without college degrees making below the $50,000 median income. In fact, nearly 60 percent of white Trump voters without college degrees were making over $50,000, placing them in the “top-half of income distribution.” Data also show that one in five Trump voters actually made over $100,000 in household income, again exposing gaping holes in the narrative that the white working-class is mostly responsible for Trump’s win.

Celisa Calacal is a junior writing fellow for AlterNet. She is a senior journalism major and legal studies minor at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York. Previously she worked at ThinkProgress and served as an editor for Ithaca College’s student newspaper. Follow her at @celisa_mia.

IMAGE: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump appears at a campaign rally in Miami, Florida, September 16, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Sorry, Liberals. We Have To Talk About Economics — And Race.

Two conclusions about Donald Trump’s highly offensive and obviously effective campaign for president are undeniable.

He was the first Republican in decades to compellingly speak to the economic concerns of at least some workers, though he did so by making heartbreakingly impossible promises and with a plan no economist, in a recent survey of experts, believes will help the middle class. And he played to white identity politics in an unabashed way that dragged the old, barely coded racial appeals of “law and order” and “the silent majority” into the 21st century — while updating them with attacks on immigrants and Muslims that once would have gotten you banned from a decent message board.

Some on the left want Democrats to ignore the racial appeals implicit in Trump’s campaign and focus almost entirely on a populist economic agenda that will help all workers, as the Democratic agenda did effectively for generations. There have been several variations on the theme but they’re probably best summed up by the headline for a column David Paul Kuhn wrote in the New York Times: “Sorry, Liberals. Bigotry Didn’t Elect Donald Trump.”

But to insist that Trump’s fans must be blazing bigots for race to have been a deciding factor in the 2016 election plays exactly into the right’s strategy of hollowing out the middle class. According to IanHaney-López, UC Berkeley law professor and author of the essential Dog Whistle Politics, that strategy uses identity politics to generate “broad popular support for politicians and policies that transfer our nation’s wealth to the new robber barons.”

It’s a “false choice” to suggest Democrats must chose between “pocket book” issues and so-called “identity” politics, Haney-López argues: “To say that racial aggrievement fuels American electoral politics is not to say that America is a country of bigots.”

We “play into conservatives’ hands,” he writes, when we let them get away with the notion that “racism must look like a Klan hood and burning cross.”

Trump never used racial slurs and was, for instance, forced to back off explicitly racial attacks on Judge Curiel’s Mexican heritage. He hastened to add “Some, I assume are good people,” immediately after suggesting that millions of Mexican immigrants were rapists and criminals. Those hedges reveal that there was a method to what some Democrats called his madness.

“When progressives understand race solely in terms of bigotry — or shy away from talking about racism because it’s a fraught conversation —they play into conservative [strategies],” Lopez says. We can’t deny that “Trump made race a cornerstone of his appeal,” even if there are examples of Obama voters becoming Trump voters.

“Focusing on the Obama-Trump voter is less a successful rebuttal than a form of denial,” Haney says, noting that the phenomenon ignores factors like sexism and voters’ tendency to vote for the “change” candidate. Most importantly that voter represents “a tiny slice of the electorate,” likely less than 7 percent, which is almost irrelevant compared to Trump’s success at mobilizing white voters who hadn’t turned out in previous elections and Democrats’ failure to mobilize non-white voters who had.

Even Kuhn acknowledges that racism “appeared more concentrated among Trump voters,” while assigning Trump’s success to other factors.

Understanding how Trump and the GOP effectively use race requires seeing that the right is “waging a culture war around gender, elitism, and especially race, using coded and not so coded terms to trigger strong resentments.” This is specifically designed to persuade white voters to cast ballots that are not only against their interests but suicidal for the middle class.

Yes, the economic anxiety many Trump voters felt is real and must be addressed. But addressing that anxiety exclusively would be a big mistake, according to Haney-López, because “it assumes that economic pain comes first, and so, it implies that finances are more fundamental than scapegoating.”

Racial resentment has made the rigged economy we all live in now possible.

The parties have not switched their polarities from the North to the South, and the GOP didn’t become a party that is 90 percent white with 98 percent white elected officials by accident, Haney-López notes.

So how do we begin to change this?

Ignoring racism and focusing solely on economics helps the GOP, and that won’t even be an option considering whom Trump’s policies will target, Greg Sargent argues.

But Haney-López asserts that the Democratic Party presenting itself as “a coalition of minorities, each with discrete identities but united by a few shared interests” won’t reverse the trends that have fed massive inequality either.

Instead, we need to tackle the right’s white identity politics for what it is: a scam against the entire American working class.

“To regain control of government, progressives must directly address the divide-and-conquer politics employed by the right,” Haney-López says. “This doesn’t mean blaming white men for being racist or sexist, nor does it mean neglecting economic issues.”

It puts the burden on the left to invest in outreach that speaks to economic pain and explains explicitly how the right’s agenda is a scam to pit workers of all races against each other, while millionaires and billionaires suck up all the growth of the economy and almost exclusively benefit from Trump’s agenda, starving the American Dream.

“Democrats must re-tell the story of the last 50 years, emphasizing how race and other culture-war issues have been used to divide and conquer,”  Haney-López says. “This is fundamentally a story of shared interests and a common enemy.”

He’s been making this argument for years. But now that Democrats have seen and all of America will soon see the destructiveness of unchecked white identity politics, maybe we’ll all start to listen.

Sorry, but we can’t afford not to.