Women started the revolt against Trump’s America the day after his inauguration, and their opposition continues to deepen. In 2018, Democrats increased their margins relative to 2016 by more than double digits with white college-educated women—Hillary Clinton’s base—but also with white unmarried women and white working-class women. In 2018, black women turned out to vote in record numbers and gave Republicans only 7 percent of their votes.
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The women’s wave grew to a potential tsunami when I began testing the leading Democratic candidates against Trump in the 2020 presidential contest earlier this month. With Joe Biden as the candidate, Trump won only 4 percent of African American women. He lost Hispanic women by 25 points, white unmarried women by 18, white college women by 14, and white Millennial women by 12—all at historic highs for Democrats.
Yet while the revulsion that women and suburbanites show toward Trump registers with elite commentators and Democratic operatives, the role that working-class voters have played in Republicans’ recent electoral troubles mostly does not.
The white working class forms 46 percent of registered voters; most are women. Although these voters’ excitement and hopes made Trump’s 2016 victory possible, they were demonstrably disillusioned just a year into Trump’s presidency. They pulled back when the Republicans proposed big cuts in domestic spending, Medicare, and Medicaid and made health insurance more uncertain and expensive, while slashing taxes for corporations and their lobbyists. In the midterms, Democrats ran on cutting prescription-drug costs, building infrastructure, and limiting the role of big money, and a portion of the white working class joined the revolt. The 13-point shift against Trump was three times stronger than the shift in the suburbs that got everyone’s attention.
Trump won white working-class women by 27 points in 2016. But at the end of 2019, Biden was running dead even with Trump nationally. Eight months before the election, Democracy Corps—of which I am a co-founder—and the Center for Voter Information conducted a survey in the battleground states that gave Trump his Electoral College victory. (Trump won them by 1.3 points in 2016.) Our recent findings showed Biden trailing Trump with white working-class women by just eight points in a head-to-head contest. These numbers herald an earthquake, but they have not penetrated elite commentators’ calculations about whether Trump will win in 2020.
When President Barack Obama urged voters to “build on the progress” by supporting Hillary Clinton in 2016, he underestimated how much working-class voters felt Democrats had pushed their concerns out of sight. Democratic presidents championed NAFTA and presided over the outsourcing of jobs; bank bailouts, lost homes and wages, and mandatory health insurance further alienated working people; and Clinton did not hide her closeness with Wall Street or her discomfort campaigning to win working-class and rural communities. So working people had lots of reasons to consider voting for Donald Trump, who said he was battling for the “forgotten Americans,” but shocked Clinton supporters could see only the race cards he played to great effect the second he got off the escalator at Trump Tower. Now the failure of political elites to see the role working people played in the Democratic victories of 2018 makes them believe that Trump is headed for reelection.