Picture a Donald Trump supporter; someone whom Bill O’Reily would call a ‘Real American’, a Wal-Mart shopping, gun owning, humble, hardworking American. Such stereotypes of Trump supporters are largely unhelpful and self-indulgen - however the latest polling suggests these stereotypes may be found to carry certain truths.
Trump does enjoy support amongst many demographics – excluding the non-white vote. However, the latest Washington Post poll puts Trump’s support amongst the non-college white vote at 58% of those polled, 51% of the male vote and 76% of the evangelical protestant vote, indicating where his strongest support base lies; the stereotypes about Trump supporters in many ways are correct.
The Republicans do hold an expected base with the evangelical vote, but Trump’s ability to hold onto his core vote of white non-college educated males is to be admired. How does someone born into wealth, never facing the problems that many of these voters face, capture this demographic so thoroughly?
Stupidity, ignorance and xenophobia? The obvious answers to perfectly fit a narrative accompanying Trump’s anti-Muslim, pro-wall rhetoric. Yet, this fails to explain the full story behind the strength in his support base.
At the time of writing, Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight predicts a 24 point victory for Trump in West Virginia, with a 97.1% chance that Trump will clinch all five of the state’s electoral votes. With 93% of the state’s population white, it’d be an expected strong hold for Trump, it is also where the story of his support can be found.
On December 8th 1993, Bill Clinton signed the North-American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the agreement coming into effect on January 1st 1994. Between 1994 -2015, 31,418 manufacturing jobs had been lost in West Virginia according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics.Voters were told that ‘NAFTA means jobs. American jobs, and good-paying American jobs’, the reality was different.
Walker Systems of Williamstown, WV produced infloor wire and cable management products but in 2003 made 310 workers redundant due to a shift in production to Mexico and China. Century Aluminium put 684 workers out of work with their shift of production to Iceland. Shifts in production are not the only reason for redundancies, free-trade agreements such as NAFTA allowed US companies to be under-cut by imports causing job losses. ISG Weirton, a steel company, laid off 1,000 workers due to cheaper imports, as did the glass giftware company Fenton Art Class who made 343 redundancies.
A report by The Economic Policy Institute concluded ‘As of 2010, U.S. trade deficits with Mexico totalling $97.2 billion had displaced 682,900 U.S. jobs’ – 116,400 were down to the financial crash of 2007/8.
Trump oozes his own business ego, his skills at creating the perfect deal, his ability to win. Trump has built this image as the pinnacle of successes through his television, business ventures, books and having his name plastered on golden towers:
"All over the world, I do business. I make great deals. I've made hundreds of millions of dollars against China. All over the world I make money."
The damaging impact of NAFTA on American jobs has made the Obama administration’s task to seal TTIP and TTP all that harder, with all but one Democratic senator voting against giving Obama a free-hand in the negotiations; even the odd Republican, like Ted Cruz, has broken ranks against the deals declaring that he opposes TPP "and have always opposed TPP".
However, Trump is different. He doesn’t simply oppose trade deals, he proposes alternate deals in which he will use his business acumen to ensure America wins: "When was the last time anybody saw us beating, let's say, China in a trade deal? They kill us. I beat China all the time. All the time."
Trump’s rhetoric on trade deals can lead many to believe he is about to revive US industry and stop job losses due to imports and shifts in production. As he wrote in his 2011 book ‘Time to Get Tough’, "I'm sick of always reading about outsourcing", for many when he says he’ll ‘Make America Great Again’ they hear him offering them a return to an America in which their jobs would be safe for the entirety of their lives.
This is not to say that Trump doesn’t have followers who support him because of his hard-line – to put it politely – stance on issues such as immigration, security and foreign policy. Yet, to blanket all of his followers as backward looking xenophobes is wrong. A recent report from Working America looked at Trump’s support among the working classes, immigration came out as the 3rd most important issue. The first? Good jobs and the economy.
There are a plethora of reasons behind Trump’s support, yet for many Americans, he has their backing because he offers them personal security in putting America first on the global stage. Free-trade deals, such as NAFTA, have destroyed American jobs, Trump offers to right people of this wrong with the fantastic deals he’ll make supported by his image of business success to back up claim.
Public trust in Washington is notoriously low, Americans were told free-trade agreements would create jobs, it did not. As a Washington outsider, Trump offers an alternative that many working class voters hope will give them job security and not allow them to be under-cut by international competition – this is why his support base amongst such voters is so strong.