More differences between the two camps emerge over America’s increasing integration into the global economy. Trump’s supporters are somewhat more likely than Clinton’s (42 percent to 33 percent respectively) to view with alarm the heightened reliance of American companies on foreign markets; the gap is even wider over the increased availability of low-cost products produced abroad (with 65 percent of Trump’s supporters, vs. 48 percent of Clinton’s, viewing it negatively).
Trade is the key issue pulling Colin Putney, a 42-year-old self-described moderate Republican in Middletown, California, toward Trump. Putney said he was laid off from a major technology firm when his job was outsourced to India. “The only reason they let me go is bottom line,” he said. “They just want to show profits to the shareholders and it didn't have to do with my work performance at all. I do feel very strongly that that would be my number one reason for why I would support Donald Trump, is he does believe that corporations have their duty to bring their work here into the United States. There's plenty of unemployed people in this country who are willing and able to do the jobs that are being sent overseas.”
But by far the biggest gap between the two groups comes in their response to cultural and demographic change. In each case, the share of Clinton supporters who express positive views of the three key social trends the poll tested is about 30 percentage points higher than the proportion of Trump supporters.
Although 83 percent of Clinton voters are positive about more women working outside the home, only 50 percent of Trump backers agree. Intriguingly, the women supporting Trump are more negative about this development than the men, the poll found.
And while 58 percent of Clinton voters say the growing share of foreign-born residents has been a positive force, only 26 percent of Trump supporters second that conclusion. Nearly half of Trump supporters believe that trend has negatively affected the country, compared to just one-in-ten Clinton supporters. (Another 29 percent of Clinton supporters and 22 percent of Trump backers say the change’s impact has been neutral.)
Similarly, while 53 percent of Clinton supporters consider it positive that most public-school students are now ethnic and racial minorities, only 25 percent of Trump supporters agree. About one-third of Trump supporters, compared again to only one-in-ten Clinton backers, view the increased diversity of school children as negative; another one-third of Clinton supporters, and two-fifths of Trump backers, view the change as neutral.
In follow up interviews, several of the Clinton voters enthusiastically portrayed the increasing diversity as a rejuvenating force for America. By contrast, in conversation, for many Trump supporters demographic change is inextricably interwoven with a sense of diminished economic opportunity and wobbling moral foundations. Theresa McCoy, 57, a former textile employee in Barnesville, Georgia, who is now on Social Security, has not found work since her plant was shut 15 years ago. She worries about foreign economic competition, eroding respect for religion, (“I wish they had never took the 10 commandments, the reading of the bible and the pledge of allegiance out of school”), and the increasing presence of foreign faces in American communities, such as immigrants from India. “They shouldn't … be able to come over here and suck us dry,” she said. “I don't go in nowhere there's an Indian person working … If it ain't an American store, I'm not going in.”
These stark contrasts underscore the sense that the 2016 election is coalescing into a referendum on America’s national identity at a time of unstinting economic, demographic, and cultural change. In that contest, Clinton is marshaling a “coalition of transformation” mostly comfortable with cultural and demographic change, while Trump is drawing on a competing “coalition of restoration” centered on the groups most unsettled by it.
Atlantic assistant editor Leah Askarinam contributed.