Former President Bill Clinton’s top pollster acknowledged that Democrats have been losing working-class voters of all races and backgrounds—not just solely white working-class voters—because the party’s elites support open borders, are soft on illegal immigration, and favor trade deals that screw American workers.
Stan Greenberg—who has written extensively about the importance of so-called Reagan Democrats in places like Macomb County, Michigan—declared that Democrats do not just have a “white working-class problem.” Writing in the American Prospect, Greenberg notes that Democrats have lost support “with all working-class voters across the electorate, including the Rising American Electorate of minorities, unmarried women, and millennials” because of the party’s “seeming embrace of multinational trade agreements that have cost American jobs.” In addition, he says “Democrats have moved from seeking to manage and champion the nation’s growing immigrant diversity to seeming to champion immigrant rights over” those of American citizens.
“This decline contributed mightily to the Democrats’ losses in the states and Congress and to the election of Donald Trump,” he says, noting that Democrats have failed to “attack a political economy that works for the rich, big corporations, and the cultural elites, but not for average Americans.”
Voters, Greenberg points out, are worried “about the costs” that come with massive immigration, with 60 percent believing that granting legal status to illegal immigrants “would lead to greater competition for public services and more than half believe it would take jobs from American citizens.” He points out that even a whopping “41 percent of Democrats think those immigrants would “take jobs from U.S. citizens” and half of Democrats believe granting legal status “would be a drain on government services.” In the 2016 election, Trump hammered Clinton among white working-class voters, winning their voters by nearly 40 percentage points.
Though white-working class men were most opposed to illegal immigration, Greenberg curiously reveals the inconvenient truth that Democrats should “not assume that African Americans do not share some of those concerns” for “many in our focus groups raise anxieties about competition from new immigrants.” In addition, he says, “like the more conservative working-class whites, African American women place a high premium on faith in God and the need to put American citizens before immigrants.”
During the 2016 election, Jamelle Bouie acknowledged that it would not be a “bad play” for Trump to appeal to black workers with an immigration agenda that favors American workers. And Hillary Clinton’s support for amnesty programs may have turned off enough black voters to make Trump president. According to the Census, black Americans “showed the sharpest decline in voter turnout– 7.1 percent since 2012. At 59.6 percent, it was the lowest black turnout rate since 2000.”
Immigration may have also arguably been the reason that propelled trump to the GOP nomination. As Breitbart News Editor-at-Large Joel Pollak has pointed out, on July 10, 2015, nine days after an illegal immigrant murdered Kate Steinle in San Francisco, Trump met with victims of illegal immigrant crime. Trump was in seventh then, trailing former Florida Governor Jeb Bush by 10 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics average of the polls. Nine days later, Trump rocketed into first place in the RealClearPolitics average and never looked back.
Another Greenberg survey a month into Trump’s presidency found “how central concerns about immigration, borders, foreignness, and Islam were” to white working-class Trump voters in Macomb County, Michigan who had previously voted for Obama. These voters were convinced that Clinton and today’s Democrats wanted “open borders,” according to his surveys.
Democrats have also been losing working-class voters because of trade. Greenberg notes “that separation grew wider with Obama’s battle for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and with Trump making his opposition to it central to his vow to represent ‘the forgotten Americans.’”
“The Obama presidency produced a partisan realignment on trade, reinforcing the class and gender bases of the two parties that will disrupt the politics of both, if it hasn’t already,” he wrote. “Before 2008, Republicans were more supportive of NAFTA than Democrats, but at the end of Obama’s presidency, GOP support for NAFTA collapsed, pushed off the cliff by Trump. Democrats, on the other hand, became more favorably disposed to NAFTA.”
His surveys have discovered that the “white working class, who live amid the remains of the manufacturing sector in the industrial Midwest, strongly oppose these trade agreements with increasing ferocity, particularly the men who were disproportionately employed in manufacturing.” During the 2016 campaign, Trump relentlessly opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal and called out Clinton for waffling on it and never giving a clear answer about where she stood. One of Trump’s first actions as president was signing an executive order formally withdrawing the United States from the TPP.
Greenberg also points out that working-class Americans of all backgrounds “pulled back from Democrats in this last period of Democratic governance because” of Obama’s “insistence on heralding economic progress and the bailout of the irresponsible elites, while ordinary people’s incomes crashed and they continued to struggle financially.” Interestingly, according to Greenberg, Obama’s embrace of policies favored by elites who live in the country’s wealthiest zip codes did the party no favors with minority voters, who have been left behind in liberal cities like San Francisco and New York.
“That is why the simple embrace of metropolitan America’s liberal values and economic elite hurt Democrats with working-class voters in both the big cities and in rural America,” he notes.