The effect is even stronger among white voters, who already tend toward Trump. Even a bit of distance matters: Trump wins by 9 points among white likely voters who live within two hours of their childhood home, but by a whopping 26 percent among whites who live in their hometown proper.
“Whites who were born in their hometowns and never left are really strong Trump supporters,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI’s director of research. “If you’re raised in a more culturally conservative area and you never leave, chances are that you’re going to be a bit more insular. I think among those kind of folks, there’s an appeal that Trump is hearkening back.”
While Trump often talks about bringing manufacturing jobs back and restoring American dominance in the world, he paradoxically fares best among communities that haven’t yet been adversely affected by globalization. His supporters live in towns that are somewhat better off than average (Trump has more votes than Clinton does among people making between $50,000 and $100,000) and racially homogenous.
I’ve written before about the “hope gap” that separates the two candidates’ camps; this new data adds a local dimension. Might Trump voters be motivated by the fear of change in their own communities—towns they’ve grown up with—and thus vote for a candidate promising to set the clock back?
April, 30, has lived in Winthrop Harbor, Illinois, her entire life. It’s a small suburb north of Chicago, snug against Lake Michigan and the border with Wisconsin. April says she had a good childhood, but she’s concerned about the direction her neighborhood has taken in the past decade or so.
“We’re a working-class neighborhood—nobody’s well off, nobody is in poverty,” she said. “But once I hit my teenage years … our neighborhoods went to crap.” She blames the change on an influx of residents from Chicago, who are mostly black, and is considering moving farther north.
“I don’t want to be offensive, but... I feel as though Democrats have kept the poverty, especially in my area, it’s mostly the black community. They like having them there. The black community has been voting for them for, gosh, 50-something years? And there’s more people on welfare. And those are the areas that are bad, I’ve seen it firsthand,” she said.
David, 72, has similar concerns about his hometown of Dubuque, Iowa. “You go down the street, you look at these homes—they were nice-looking homes, and they ain’t worth a rat’s ass now,” he said. “We had a mayor that welcomed 500 families of blacks from Chicago and Detroit. Now don’t get me wrong, there are some good ones, but mainly all we got is them turning up in the paper, stealing something, shooting somebody. Gangs are fighting.”
That a 30-year-old and a septuagenarian from two different states could have much the same opinion about their communities says a fair amount about Trump’s expert (or more likely, innate) targeting: He appeals to folks who believe their communities are being taken away from them. It cannot be left unsaid that most of these people are white, and the people moving into their hometowns are not.