Donald Trump Is Killing It With White, Working-Class Voters In The Rust Belt

Even among some Democrats.

01/28/2016 12:46 pm ET
Raoul Gatchalian/Star Max/IPx
White and working-class voters in the Rust Belt are interested in Donald Trump, according to the results of a canvass from Working America.

WASHINGTON -- Here are some scary findings for anyone who doesn't support Donald Trump for president.

Working America, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO union federation, just spent five weeks canvassing in the Cleveland and Pittsburgh areas, focusing on likely voters who live outside the city and have household incomes at or below $75,000 (read: white and working class). The group's canvassers spoke to 1,689 people, 90 percent of whom cast ballots in 2012. While the report serves as a non-scientific "front porch focus group," rather than a representative sample of the states' voters, its findings offer a glimpse into some voters' minds.

Of the entire Democratic and Republican fields, the most popular single candidate was Donald Trump -- and it wasn't even close. Thirty-eight percent of people who had already made up their minds said they wanted to vote for the Republican real estate magnate. The candidate with the next highest share was Democrat Hillary Clinton, with 22 percent.

Trump's haul was more than the rest of the GOP field combined, which was 22 percent. Democratic candidate and Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders rang up 12 percent of decided voters. The Clinton and Sanders shares, when combined, came out roughly equal to Trump's.

A third of the Trump supporters were so loyal that they claimed they would not vote for another candidate if Trump were not the nominee. Not surprisingly, "personality" was a greater factor than policy issues for many Trump backers. Almost half of the Trump contingent said they liked him particularly because he speaks his mind.

And that would partly explain this troubling finding for Democrats: One in four people who identified as Democrats said they were backing Trump.

The good news for Democrats and the rest of the Republican field was that a slight majority of 53 percent said they still hadn't settled on a candidate. As Working America put it in their paper, "key white-working class voters have not made up their minds yet in the 2016 presidential race, but of those who have, Donald Trump is the strongest choice."

Working America is a non-union wing of the AFL-CIO, known for its canvassing and ground game, particularly in the Rust Belt. The group knocked on doors outside Cleveland for obvious reasons: White, working-class voters make up more than half of the Ohio electorate. And as the old axiom says -- as Ohio goes, so goes the nation.

A lot of the "economically distressed" communities they went to for this canvass -- four counties and 11 cities in Ohio and Pennsylvania -- are "threaten[ing] to tip strongly toward the conservative populism embodied by Donald Trump’s rhetoric," Working America warned. The people they spoke to "are fearful about their economic circumstances and prospects, angry about politicians who fail to address their concerns, and skeptical about the role of government."

While racism explained part of Trump's allure to those interviewed -- his attacks on immigrants and Muslims resonated with many -- Working America said economic anxiety seemed to play a bigger role: "A far greater number of prospective voters are more deeply concerned about the economy and about their fates, and the future of their families, in a time of rapid change."

Read Working America's full report here.

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