I want to revisit this issue, about which I have already devoted a number of blogposts. But my reason is not to relitigate the last election. Anyone who is interested in the future of the Democratic Party, and maybe therefore the nation, should be focused like a laser on the 2018 midterms and 2020 presidential elections. The only check on Trump will be either the loss of congressional control by the Republicans or fear of same. Understanding what might persuade Trump/Republican voters to vote Democratic, while keeping the existing base of Democratic voters intact, is therefore crucial.
This is the reason I am not persuaded by the purely racial or racial and anti-immigrant analysis. Not because I think it is wrong. Clearly there are deep wells of racism in the American electorate, and unfortunately they continue to water a certain sort of noxious campaign politics. But politics is not about personal reformation; it is about getting and holding power. So between now and 2020 probably we are not going to persuade committed racists to change their stripes. Those who voted for Trump because of race are likely to be Republican voters no matter what.
The same applies but to a lesser degree to ant-immigrant sentiment. Race is nearly a constant in American politics. It is always there and right now the best that can be done is to keep it in check like a malignant tumor. Anti-immigrant sentiment has risen and fallen in American history, however. Like race, but even more so, it connects to feelings of economic insecurity, anxiety and a sense that the “system” is unfair. Both racism and nativism are activated by economics in this way. But it is also the economic interests, or perhaps better the economic beliefs, of voters that are the most changeable. Convince voters on economic lines, a much easier proposition than scrubbing them of their nativist and racist beliefs, and not only can you win such voters but you are likely to reduce the salience of their racism and nativism as well.
So what are the potentially persuadable Trump Republicans and Trump turning Democrats thinking about economically?
As more analysis of the vote comes in, some patterns are emerging. I previously noted that the Obama-to-Trump switch was not insignificant, as the earliest data seemed to suggest. And it was particularly important in the key states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The latest data indicate that of the voters who switched to Trump (or just stayed home after voting for Obama) almost 1/3 did so simply because they disliked Hilary Clinton. Those voters also believed that Trump would NOT favor the wealthy but would help the middle class. They were drawn to his background as an, ahem, “businessman,” believing he would improve their lives economically. Indeed, while those who stayed home were strongly convinced Trump and the Republicans would favor the wealthy (92%), of those who voted for Obama then switched to Trump only 21% believed this.
It is nearly impossible to measure the place of racism through voter polls, since few people will readily admit to (or even believe) they harbor racist feelings. But one statistic is telling. Of those with mixed feelings toward Trump–people I would put in the persuadable category–only 15% care about having a wall built on the Mexican border. Among his strong supporters the desire for a wall is two and a half times as great as that. Similar differences appear on the question of deporting immigrants. His deep base is very much in favor of it, but his marginal supporters are far less interested.
While it may take some time to sink in, all this suggests that Trump’s failure to deliver the economic goods could cost him and the Republicans in the next election cycle. American voters will never be angles but good old economics might make them abandon the devil they now know.
The recent survey of voters has two additional insights worth commenting on. First, among those who did not turn up to vote, understanding that Trump and the Republicans would be good for the rich and bad for the rest of us ran very high. One possible inference is that Clinton and the Democrats failed to provide a strong economic alternative and these voters were left with a “what difference does it make” feeling. Second, among many of the “persuadable” or weak Trump supporters, the issue of banks and Wall Street did not register very high. By contrast the non-voters saw finance and Wall Street as an important issue. They may have been among those attracted to Bernie Sanders for that reason. But the anti-Wall Street message did not reach or impressive those who voted for Obama then turned to Trump.
One reason that this message was lost on the Trump-turning voters may have been that the Democrats failed over eight years to make a strong case for it. Obama really lost a bet when he failed, starting in his first term, to go after the Banksters hard, in the way the Roosevelt Administration did during the first Great Depression. Persuaded that saving the banks came first, Obama only supported a very weak and ineffective mortgage relief program, while his treasury secretary Geithner and others said there was nothing they could do nothing about the huge *yuuuge* bonuses bank CEOs and Wall Street financiers were paying themselves with government bailout money. Obama himself commented that men like Jamie Dimon were “smart,” even though the financial industry paid Obama back by quickly abandoning him and attacking him for even his mild criticisms of their behavior. This is why Obama’s recent decision to go for a big payoff in his speech to Wall Street investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald sounds so tone deaf. The Obama-Clinton Democrats have taken off the table an issue that could play well with their strong supporters. Handled correctly it might make even Trump supporters start to see that their vote went for a man with no interest in the welfare of people in their class.