Analysis Top Story

Trump Accelerates Trends That Could Realign Parties

Democrats are trading one type of white voter for another while Latinos flee the Republican Party in droves.

American voters Davidson North Carolina
Voters listen to a speech by Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine in Davidson, North Carolina, October 12 (Hillary for America/Alyssa S.)

Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy in the United States is accelerating three trends that could reshape the country’s two-party system: the consolidation of lower-educated white voters in the Republican Party and the flight of college-educated whites and minority voters to the Democrats.

New York magazine reports that Hillary Clinton’s party is trading white working-class supporters for suburban Republicans, a trend that is reshaping the electoral map: Whereas Trump weans white voters away from the Democrat in Northeastern Rust Belt states such as Michigan, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, Clinton is making inroads in the suburbs of Colorado, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia.

This is deliberate, writes David Wasserman in The New York Times.

The Clinton campaign calculates that its candidate is likelier to prevail by “disqualifying” Mr Trump — using ads to make the idea of voting for him socially unacceptable in professional suburbs — among additional well-educated voters (in states like North Carolina) than by holding on to working-class voters tempted by Mr Trump’s populism (in states like Ohio).

Trump’s misogyny, his sexism and the many accusations of sexual misconduct against him have made him particularly vulnerable among educated women.

FiveThirtyEight reports that polls show an average 15-point gender gap in Clinton’s favor. That is double Barack Obama’s lead among women over Mitt Romney four years ago.

Who represents “real” America?

But Clinton’s strategy is different from Obama’s in 2012.

The president was able to retain his support in mostly white and industrial states such as Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin by characterizing Romney as an out-of-touch plutocrat.

The same charge could be leveled against Trump, but that’s not what Clinton is doing.

She is tailoring her message in such a way that it galvanizes the coalition of upscale whites and racial minorities that first elected Obama in 2008.

It’s why I argued here in July that Democrats are now the party of “real” America: ethnically diverse, urban or suburban and relaxed about changing gender and sexual norms. That is where the majority of the country is.

Many of Trump’s supporters, by contrast, long for an America that is fading away: a country that is mostly white, more rural and more traditional.

Hispanic power and Hispanic fears

Nothing better illustrates the danger white nostalgia poses to the electoral prospects of Republicans than the growing power of Hispanics.

Jamelle Bouie warns at Slate that the party risks losing Hispanic voters the same way it lost black voters in 1964.

Blacks had been a swing constituency up to that year. Dwight Eisenhower won 39 percent of the black vote in 1956. Richard Nixon got 32 percent support from blacks in 1960. But when their party nominated Barry Goldwater four years later — an opponent of the Civil Rights Act who took Southern segregationist votes away from the Democrats — black support for Republicans dropped to 6 percent. It never recovered.

Republicans have been ambivalent about Hispanics and Hispanic immigration.

Smart Republicans know they are doomed as a national party if history repeats itself. They believe (or hope) that Hispanics, who are mostly Catholic and increasingly middle class, could be won over by a conservatism that emphasizes small government, self-reliance and family values.

But there has been an anti-immigrant streak in the Republican Party which, as a result of Trump, is now dominant.

Unsurprisingly, this has alarmed Latinos. Surveys show that only 21 percent of them believe the Republican Party cares about their community. 82 percent (!) say Trump makes them fear for the future of their family and the country.

Those numbers are devastating for Republicans, who had hoped to lure more Hispanic voters into their party.

As Bouie puts it, it’s almost impossible “to make gains with groups that see you as a danger to their futures.”

By placing Donald Trump at the top of the ticket and indulging his nativism and xenophobia, the Republican Party has said with its actions that it doesn’t want Latinos in its tent. Republicans may thus end up estranged from another group of nonwhite voters — not because there aren’t conservative or right-leaning people in the Latino community, but because the GOP has shown itself hostile to the idea of a pluralistic, multiracial America with room and opportunity for Americans of all origins.

Managing tensions

Even if the new Democratic alliance wholly embraces the view of America as a pluralistic, multiracial nation, it won’t be without its tensions.

Wasserman predicts that the growing upscale wing of the party will be at odds with activists on issues of taxes and spending. There is a lot that separates the young Bernie Sanders supporter from a middle-aged professional couple in the Virginia suburbs who are leaving the Republican Party this year.

Although that middle-aged couple could very well be the young Bernie Sanders supporter’s mom and dad. They may disagree on policy, but they’re from the same culture.

The bigger divide is in the Republican Party: between the preferences of Trump voters and right-wing donors. The former are skeptical of free trade and protective of social insurance programs, such as Medicare and Social Security. The latter tend to be indifferent to the cultural concerns of the party’s base.

This gap has existed for years, though, and Democrats have similarly been split between Clintonesque (husband and wife) business-friendly centrists and liberal interventionists on the one hand and left-wing purists and peaceniks on the other. The challenge for party leaders is not trying to diminish these divisions in any way but managing them. At that, Democrats have been much better of late.