Monday, May 14, 2018

Resentment of coastal elites, much of it rural, still motivates Trump voters, according to three new reports

By Al Cross
Director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

A resentment of coastal elites is a key to the support that President Trump still enjoys in parts of the country that abandoned their usual Democratic allegiances for him in 2016. That's a thread that runs through three recent in-depth reports: one by a Democratic pollster, one by The Washington Post's chief political reporter, and the other by a conservative journalist who was one of the leaders in defining the who and why of Trump voters before the election.

Much of this resentment is in among Americans, as I outlined in a speech to a rural-education conference last week and in a chapter for a book, The Trump Presidency, Journalism and Democracy, published by Routledge in Februrary. The latest reports are by pollster Stan Greenberg, on voters in suburban Macomb County, Michigan; the Post's Dan Balz, who reported from rural counties along and near the upper Mississippi River; and Salena Zito, who with Republican operative Brad Todd wrote The Great Revolt, a new book based on "10 counties they studied across the five states that tipped the election to Trump, as the Post's James Hohman describes it in the paper's "Daily 202."

Here's what Michael Martin of Erie, Pa., told the authors: “Live in a small or medium-sized town, and you would think we were dragging the country down. We aren’t a country just made up of large metropolitan areas. Our politics and our culture up until now has dictated that we are less than in the scale of importance and value.” That is reflected in much of the national news media, based mainly on the East Coast, and resentment of media portrayals is a big part of the attitudes of rural voters, who gave at least 62 percent of their votes to Trump, a record.

Zito and Todd note "a polarization between those who live in dense cosmopolitan communities with higher-than-average education levels and those who live in rural, exurban and industrial locales that, as a rule, have . . . lower-than-average education levels and less transience." Four of the 10 counties where they did interviews are rural; evangelical voters are represented largely by rural Howard County, Iowa, where Obama got 62 and 59 percent of the vote and Trump got 58.

Greenberg has long studied “Reagan Democrats” in Macomb County, "which Trump won by 12 points after Barack Obama carried it twice, including by 16 points in 2008," Hohmann notes. “Trump voters complain that there is no respect for President Trump or for people like them who voted for him,” Greenberg writes in a new memo summarizing his latest findings, with Nancy Zdunkewicz of Democracy Corps. “A healthy diet of Fox News is feeding the white working-class men fending off the challenges of Trump’s opponents, including those within their own families. They … feel vindicated that a businessman like Trump has produced a strong macro-economy and kept his promises on immigration. They continue to appreciate how he speaks his mind, unlike a typical politician.”
Balz's report was illustrated by the map above, which also shows how reliably Republican the overall rural vote has become. "One reason Balz’s piece is great is that it’s longitudinal: It tracks in a nuanced way how specific people’s attitudes about Trump have shifted gradually since he took office," Hohmann reports. "The best illustration is Kurt Glazier, 50, from Sterling, Ill.," population 15,000. Balz visited him four times. "He’s a state worker, a union member and chairman of the Republican Party in Whiteside County. . . . By midsummer of 2017, Glazier had growing concerns about Trump. . . .Near the first anniversary of the president taking office, Glazier worried especially that those who voted for Trump are now viewed by others as therefore being like Trump. . . . Glazier drew a distinction between the staunchest Trump supporters and other Republicans – like him."

Glazier told Balz, “I think the real party faithful, the educated voters, might be beginning to distance themselves from him, and I wouldn’t be too surprised to see a Republican challenger or challengers against Trump. They wanted so much of a change. But he has some changing to do himself before I would be supportive of him again. … A 71-year-old man like he is, I don’t foresee him changing a whole lot.”

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