Running Out of Working-Class Whites: Why Trump Is Struggling in States Like Georgia

Can these white voters get any more Republican than they were in 2012? Photo: Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images

Earlier this week, I tried to explain why a rising minority population was making Georgia — a state that hasn’t gone Democratic in a presidential election since 1992 — increasingly competitive. On the Upshot today, Nate Cohn looks at another aspect of this phenomenon, which also helps us understand why Donald Trump is doing relatively well in certain states that Democrats have routinely carried.

One of Trump’s problems in southern states like Georgia is that the white, working-class voters who have offset his weakness in other parts of the electorate are all already voting Republican. Cohn estimates that Mitt Romney won around 85 percent of the non-college-educated white voters in Georgia, and around 75 percent of college-educated white voters. Trump cannot realistically beat the former margin by much, if anything, and is almost certain to fall short of the latter. Combine that with an increasing minority vote that seems likely to go for Clinton by the same overwhelming margins won by Obama, and you’ve got an instant purple state. The same combination of factors could put North Carolina back into the Democratic column, and hold Virginia (where Clinton seems to have a very sizable lead) there, too.

The flip side of this dynamic is that in states where Obama did pretty well among white, working-class voters — and that also have (a) few minority voters, and (b) relatively small college-educated populations — Trump has plenty of opportunities to do better than Romney. That describes Iowa very well, and to some extent Ohio and Pennsylvania are similar (though both of those states have significantly larger minority electorates than Iowa does).

And so, paradoxically, some blue states are trending red, even as some red states are trending blue. It makes sense demographically, as Cohn notes:

“According to a huge compilation of SurveyMonkey polls totaling nearly 90,000 respondents, Mrs. Clinton is facing big losses among white voters without a degree in the Northeast and Midwest, but barely losing any ground with them in the South and West. Meanwhile, she appears to be making big gains among college-educated voters in just about every region, including the South.”

To put it bluntly, Republicans are running out of rednecks (I’ll use the colloquial term here, since we’re talking about my own people) to protect their advantage in some parts of the South, where a large minority voting base gets Democrats within sight of a majority. But in parts of the country where voting habits, residual unionization, and down-ballot strength have kept Democrats competitive among non-college-educated whites, there’s more room for Republicans to grow their vote, so long as they are not outgunned by minority and upscale segments of the electorate. These cross-cutting trends can seem strange when they conflict with what we think we know about particular states, but in the end, it’s all just arithmetic.

Why Trump Is Struggling in Certain Red States