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Despite the fretting of some pundits and observers, Donald Trump’s harsh statements and even harsher policies towards immigrants and immigration may not be the secret ingredient that unlocks reelection for him and the GOP. Dating back to state races in 2017, especially in Virginia, through the President’s full-throated nativism that backfired in 2018’s midterms and 2019’s government shut-down, in most cases when the President and Republicans aggressively follow the anti-immigration playbook, it has backfired. The most recent polling we analyzed and discussed yesterday indicates that the President’s approach to deploying racism and scare tactics on immigration is winning him and his party more opposition than support.
Now, in a deep dive for The Atlantic, Ron Brownstein explores part of the reason: the gap between working class white women and their male counterparts. Brownstein, in a piece titled, “Will Trump’s Racist Attacks Help Him? Ask Blue-Collar White Women,” looks at new public opinion research conducted by pollster Stan Greenberg (for the American Federation of Teachers) with nonmetropolitan voters who will be key to Trump again winning midwestern states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – states that powered his 2016 victory.
Brownstein’s conclusion is that Trump has a big white working class gender gap problem and a lot of it is due to Trump’s racism and his approach to immigrants.
[P]olling throughout Trump’s presidency has indicated that his belligerent and divisive style raises more concern among women voters than men in one of his most important cohorts: the white working class. And a new set of focus groups in small-town and rural communities offers fresh evidence that the gender gap over Trump within this bloc is hardening.
In the Rust Belt states that tipped the 2016 election to Trump—Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin—few things may matter more than whether Democrats can fan doubts about Trump that have surfaced among blue-collar white women or whether the president can rebuild his margins among them with his polarizing racial and ideological attacks.
“The white working-class men look like they are approaching the 2016 margins for Trump, but not the women,” says the veteran Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg, in a judgment supported by public polling. “Clearly the women are in a different place.”
…The new focus groups Greenberg led help illuminate [Trump’s] gender divide. The sessions were conducted in nonmetropolitan areas in Nevada, Maine, and Wisconsin among white working-class voters, both independents and loosely identified Republicans, who mostly supported Trump in 2016. In the groups, Greenberg found that Trump still receives good marks from working-class white men….
“The men were far more likely to agree with Trump on what they read and heard, and unlike the women, they almost all thought the [border] wall was a good idea or at least a net positive,” Greenberg and his colleague Chad Arthur wrote in a memo accompanying their findings…
…[A]mong the women, those areas of agreement were mitigated by other concerns about Trump, including their belief that, on immigration, “his rhetoric … made him sound ‘racist’ or ‘ignorant,’” as the report notes. “There were a lot of mentions of intolerance in reaction to what he was saying and doing,” Greenberg says.
…That recoil represents one component of the broader unease these women expressed about the level of acrimony and division under Trump. While the men almost entirely found ways to justify Trump, the women expressed much more discomfort about the way he talks about race-related issues, his overall style, and whether he respects women. “The women are not making excuses for him,” says Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, which commissioned the research. “What you’re seeing is a big difference between decency and bombast. And these women are saying, ‘This guy is bombastic; he’s disrespectful.’”
…Summarizing these views, Greenberg concluded that while working-class white men look very tough for Democrats to win over next year, the party has an opportunity to consolidate its modest 2018 revival among their female counterparts. For many of the women who backed Trump in 2016, he wrote, the president now “is seen as ego-centric and divisive and failing to deliver for working people, particularly the women and particularly on health care.”
…Greenberg’s research, like the other public polling, suggests that Trump is in something of a political box with working-class white women. He can activate their cultural and racial anxieties with more attacks of the kind he’s directed against the so-called squad of liberal Democratic congresswomen. But in the process, he’s likely to also intensify their concerns about his divisiveness and perceived “bullying.” After playing video clips of Trump’s salvos against immigrants and “socialists” to the women in his focus groups, Greenberg says he flatly does not believe that Trump’s heightened racial and ideological attacks will work with them: “I came away utterly unafraid of him playing the immigration card in its most extreme form.”
How these blue-collar women respond to Trump’s more explicit appeals to white racial identity will be pivotal in determining whether that optimism is justified.
According to Douglas Rivlin, Communications Director of America’s Voice, “Those pundits who think Trump’s bombastic style and scorched earth racism is the winning ticket for a return to the White House should take a closer look at the evidence that is unfolding. We all know a campaign of white grievances and unfiltered attacks on people of color will cost the President with voters he has already written off. But the evidence here indicates the President’s divisive tactics may be driving away voters he is trying to court and who he’ll need for a return engagement at the White House, namely suburban and rural working class white women. As it turns out, suburban women may not hate Mexicans and immigrants as much as the President and may be more turned off by the President’s hatred than their male counterparts.”