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The Paradox of the Blue Collar Voter
During the Democratic primaries, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton proved themselves to be starkly different candidates for many reasons. One of their main differences can be seen in their supporters. Sanders is a champion of progressive values who widely appeals to millenials and working class voters. Clinton is a seasoned politican with one of the most decorated résumés in American political history. Her supporters are mostly older and more affluent.
Now that the Democratic primary has ended and Hillary Clinton has accepted her party's nomination to run for president, many Bernie Sanders supporters feel disenfranchised by Clinton's brand of center-left, establishment politics. One very important bloc of Bernie supporters that Hillary will need to win over is white, working class, "blue collar" voters that were drawn to Bernie's message of disavowing income inequality and ineffective trade policies.
The paradox of the blue collar voter is that where the progressivism of Sanders almost ignited a self-proclaimed "political revolution" during this election cycle, the progressivism of Clinton almost falls completely flat among the same constituency--so much so that some blue collar Bernie supporters are leaning toward a vote for ultra capitalist and billionaire Donald Trump rather than a vote for Clinton in the general election.
One reason for this is that since Bernie's candidacy ended, Trump has been going after Hillary with the same talking points that Bernie used to make inroads with voters disillusioned by political establishment and gridlock. Some might say that by picking Tim Kaine--a center-left establishment Democrat like herself--as her running mate, Hillary Clinton has further alienated these voters.
Trump and Sanders: More alike than you think?
Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are no fans of each other. Trump thinks of Sanders as "a weak and somewhat pathetic figure" while Sanders has gone on the record calling Trump a "bigot" and a "hypocrite" among other things. But do the democratic socialist and the authoritarian capitalist have more in common than you might think? In terms of policy, not really. However, in terms of their candidacies for president, there are many parallels.
One of their biggest similarities is that they both oppose ineffective trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. For many Americans, especially working class Americans, this is an integral issue that determines their vote. With the looming threat of jobs being exported overseas, many working class Americans are seeing the struggling industries they work for become increasingly stagnant when it comes to wages and, in turn, productivity. For example, if you look at the state of Michigan, which is still recovering from the collapse of the automotive industry, it's no surprise that the anti-TPP stances of Trump and Sanders won over voters in that state during the primaries.
Another major similarity between Sanders and Trump is the unorthodox means by which both have funded their campaigns. Sanders' campaign, sticking to his anti-Citizens United platform, was completely funded by individual donors averaging $27 per donation. Trump's campaign is mostly self-funded with the rest of the funding coming from individual donors. By doing this, both Sanders and Trump have completely defied the conventional wisdom on presidential campaign fundraising and have established themselves as more populist candidates in comparison to Hillary Clinton. Unlike Clinton, Sanders and Trump could promise that, if elected president, they would not be beholden to special interests.
Will Trump really be able to sway blue collar Sanders voters away from Clinton?
That's hard to say. When it comes to Democratic voters, anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of Sanders supporters have signaled they will vote for Clinton in the general election. However, many blue collar voters are not party loyal which is another reason why they show a strong preference for underdog candidates like Sanders and Trump.
According to a YouGov poll conducted back in May, 55 percent of Sanders supporters said they would vote for Clinton over Trump in November. However, only 15 percent said they would vote for Trump. That leaves 30 percent of Sanders supporters who say they are undecided, would vote for a third-party candidate, or would sit out the election.
A lot remains unknown about the 30 percent of undecided Sanders voters. The education levels of these voters will turn out to be a very telling demographic. Donald Trump has a stronghold on voters with at most a high school diploma while Hillary Clinton is much more dominant among voters exposed to higher education. Conventional wisdom would lead one to believe that since blue collar voters have not been exposed to higher education, they are much more likely to support Trump over Clinton in the general election.
When it comes to undecided voters, it is also important to be cognizant of outside influences that work to disrupt the two party voting system. Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Jill Stein of the Green Party have been working hard to capitalize on the unfavorability of both Clinton and Trump. Their efforts have picked up dramatically since Sanders conceded the Democratic primary and endorsed Clinton. One angle that has worked well for the third party candidates is their relatability to voters. Casting themselves as political outsiders, Johnson and Stein have been steadily making the case for why they are deserving of a say in an election cycle dominated by divergent ideologies. It's too early to tell whether Johnson and Stein will drum up enough momentum to make this election tricky for the two frontrunners but their efforts to court unrepresented voters must be noted.
Will blue collar voters decide this election?
Again, that's hard to say. Donald Trump has been able to appeal to blue collar voters and their overall negative views toward government, foreigners, liberals, and more. However I do not anticipate that many more blue collar voters that did not already support Trump in the primaries will hop on the Trump bandwagon during the general election. For Trump, his relationship with blue collar voters is already strong and very established. In Trump's case, blue collar voters will not actually be the deciding factor if he clinches the presidency. His path to the White House now must focus on courting undecided voters who may be turned off by inconsistencies in his policy positions.
For Hillary Clinton, it could come in handy for her to try and appeal to blue collar voters. One weakness that Donald Trump faces in this election cycle is his inabilty to connect with voters on a personal level. Clinton's familiarity with voters as a former First Lady and Secretary of State has both helped and hurt her campaign. If she can toe the line between reminding voters of the highlights of her career and steering attention away from certain scandals, then Trump will have his hands full. For Clinton, it would serve her well to appeal to the populist sensibilities of many voters that have evaded her for much of this election cycle.
Blue collar voters will more than likely support Trump at higher levels than they will Clinton. Trump's campaign has done an excellent job at tapping into the frustrations of many white, working class Americans but his campaign will have to replicate that same success among a broader base of voters. Clinton's campaign has consistently gotten its voter base to the polls and in numbers that no other presidential candidate has achieved during this election cycle but she will have to build off of that and gain the support of both moderates and progressives to win. If she can appeal to enough blue collar voters, she could definitely put a dent in Trump's numbers and put herself in a good position to return to the White House—this time as President.