Monday, December 19, 2016

Coal's downfall, mistrust of Democrats have turned West Virginia from blue to red, big-time

West Virginia, one of the nation's most rural and coal-dependent states, has flipped from solidly blue to overwhelmingly red in recent years, largely because residents see Democrats as enemies of coal, Dante Chinni and Matt Rivera report for NBC News. Bill Clinton won West Virginia in 1992 by 13 points, but Al Gore lost it narrowly in 2000 and Donald Trump took it by more than 42 percentage points this year, beating Hillary Clinton 68.6 percent to 26.5 percent.

"Since 2010 West Virginia's coal production has declined 30 percent and coal jobs by more than 27 percent," NBC reports. The biggest reason is cheaper natural gas, but in coal-dependent counties people blame President Obama's environmental regulations to cut power-plant carbon-dioxide emissions 30 percent. Hillary Clinton's electoral drubbing in the state has been "driven in part by her promise to put 'a lot of coal miners' out of work in pursuit of clean energy. The words were pulled out of context, but they fit into a narrative people here knew well." (NBC graphic: Boone County, West Virginia has lost more than 4,000 coal jobs in the past five years; note that the chart's baseline is not zero and the numbers go to five decimal places, mostly fractions of 7)
Mike Plante, a Democratic strategist in Charleston, said "Trump was able to run up his massive margins, because the president-elect knew how to talk to people in state who feel left out of the national conversation," NBC reports. Plante told the network, "Trump was telling a story. Trump was saying the elites are all looking down their noses at you. 'I'm going to stick it to the people that stick it to you.' … West Virginia is the butt of a lot of jokes, and we feel that acutely here."

Rural areas, which traditionally lean Republican, have swayed even more so in recent years as Democrats became more associated with liberal, diverse, college-educated urban centers, NBC reports. West Virginia is 92 percent white and only 19 percent of adults are college-educated, compared to 30 percent nationally.

Even as West Virginia voters say they distrust Washington, "People still express a strong desire for government spending—especially Trump supporters—for the roads and other infrastructure that can aid a place where private sector jobs are fleeing," NBC reports. "And whether residents like it or not, government makes up a big part of this state's economic fortunes. A full 19 percent of those employed in the state work for some form of government—the public sector. That's higher than the 14 percent who work for the public sector nationally." West Virginia also ranked ninth in federal spending per capita in 2014, at $11,973 per person. (Read more)

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