Trump’s voters are more than a bunch of angry white guys
Ever since Trump first took the Oval Office, this has been virtually written in political stone: The prototype Trump-backer is a poorly educated, KKK or white-nationalist-loving slob of a blue-collar white male worker or farmer in the backwoods of the Deep South or Midwest who alternately fears and loathes Blacks, Hispanics, gays, liberals of all stripes, former President Obama and big government.
Trump’s 71 million votes proved this was always a dangerous and self-serving myth.
Even before the first vote was cast in any primary or caucus, in late 2015, Civic Analytics, a Democratic data firm, surveyed more than 10,000 Republican-leaning voters. It found that far from the ignorant bumpkin who is the butt of much caricature and ridicule to explain away the Trump phenomenon, the Trump-backers defied popular conceptions and stereotypes with the huge numbers of college-educated, suburbanite, businesspeople and professionals, young persons, Hispanics and women who said they’d vote for him.
In the survey, Trump got backing from nearly 30 percent of those under age 29, nearly one-fourth of Hispanics, and a quarter of those who held bachelor’s degrees or higher. This held up in the 2016 primaries. In the Northeast and Midwest, Trump scored just as big with well-to-do college educated voters in the suburbs as he did with blue-collar voters everywhere else.
2020 was a repeat of that, with a few new wrinkles. The big overperformance by Trump was among Black voters and especially Hispanic voters. They played an outsized role in handing Florida and Texas to Trump again.
The brutal, sobering fact is that Trump’s 71 million votes is the greatest number of votes that an openly racist, near-authoritarian candidate has ever gotten in a free election. The vote cut across all gender, race and ethnicity lines.
The Trump vote pattern is not new. The George Wallace campaigns of the 1960s blended the mix of blatantly racist appeals with thinly disguised racial code words that hammered big government, corrupt Washington bureaucrats and liberal social programs. Wallace drew lots of applause and bushels of votes from college-educated, suburbanites, and women. GOP presidents Nixon, Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush picked up on the gold mine of votes that were there for the taking among the disenchanted, fearful suburbanites, and some ethnics, at all educational levels and genders.
They played hard on what millions of voters think – that government is too big, intrusive and costly and that the traditional family, conservative religious beliefs, patriotism, a strong military, and a sliced-down government are time-tested and noble values that must be fought for and preserved. They will continue to push and prod the GOP not to cave into liberals, Hispanics and Blacks and become a “Democratic lite” party.
The foolhardy notion that it’s only ignorant rednecks who wave and shout at Trump rallies and occasionally beat up protesters gave smug comfort to many Trump-loathers. They pointed a finger at them as the predictable racist rabble, and had a field day caricaturing and ridiculing Trump as a racist, misogynist, homophobic uncouth boob. That made it easy to smugly assure that Trump didn’t have a prayer, and the election was practically in the bag for Hillary.
In 2020, something nearly akin to that almost happened. For months, polls showed that Biden consistently tabbed a double-digit lead over Trump. The double-digit poll gap was still widely cited days before the election. It was a myth.
A myth, in part because many closet Trump supporters lied to pollsters to hide their benign feeling toward Trump. Their duplicity was impossible to detect in the polling samples of likely voters. In greater part, it was a myth because the focus of much of the media remained locked on the stereotypical profile of the wingnut, poorly educated white male Trump voter. Nixon’s silent majority was indeed very much alive and well.
Presidential Election 2020 proved one more durable fact: The white males who have been the traditional bulwark of GOP support from the Reagan years on and were Trump’s core backers too, once more ranged from the less educated blue-collar worker to business and professional university graduates – many of whom were one-time Democrats. Despite much talk about their virtual disappearance as a political force, the truth is anything but that. They still comprise one in three American voters.
Trump got where he is with a lot of help, and not just from a bunch of poorly educated angry white guys. It came from everywhere in America.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.