The 1980 presidential election brought forward “Reagan Democrats,” including the 45 percent of union households who voted for him12—a stronger union showing than Trump’s 42 percent.
Here, we can look at specific conditions white workers faced in the period leading up to Trump’s election, and observe their voting behavior in the historical arc dating from the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 19.
Job Loss and White Working-Class Trump Support Two examples serve to represent the suffering recently experienced in white working-class communities, especially in rural areas. lost more than 700,000 net jobs over the nine years.
One path essentially gives up on the white working class as hopelessly backward, urging instead a double-down on the mobilization of the various “identity” constituency groups that have organized themselves over the past fifty years and have become the current base of the Democratic Party. [However] exit polls showed Trump’s share of union households only rose by 3 percent [nationally] compared with Romney in 2012.5 The significant erosion of union support for the Democratic Party in Michigan and Ohio and the modest gain in national union support for Trump reflect the close relation between Trump’s basic economic message and the AFL-CIO’s long-standing priorities: end the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), build new infrastructure, and create millions of good-paying jobs, especially in manufacturing. 26,000 new voters in the $50- $100k bracket ( 0.7 percent) but Democrats lost 379,000 voters in the same bracket (−11.7 percent).
The other view challenges the Democratic Party to go back to its traditional working-class base and win it, meaning the “white working class,” back into the fold. Clinton’s history of support for the TPP, in her pre-campaign words the “gold standard” of trade agreements, and her unfortunately expressed but truthful observation in a West Virginia forum that “we’re going to put a lot of coal companies and coal miners out of business,”6 made her a suspect champion on these issues. Where data were available, similar patterns emerged for white as well as black and Hispanic voters.
Trump won 57 percent of all white votes but only 21 percent of nonwhite votes.