A set of state-level Census findings, also analyzed by Griffin and Teixeira, underscores the difficulty of reversing the long-term contraction of the white working-class, even for a candidate as dedicated as Trump to mobilizing them. Though the state data can be volatile, they showed that the share of the vote cast by whites without a college degree declined last year even in each of the five Midwestern states that decided the election: Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Although the slippage was very small in Wisconsin, in all five states the data showed the share of the vote cast by college-educated whites increased from 2012 to 2016, often by significant amounts.
These results also extend long-term trends: In all five states, Census data have shown non-college-educated whites now constitute a significantly smaller share of the total vote than they did in 1992. Despite this decline, the new results found those whites still represented 50 percent of all voters in Michigan, 51 percent in Pennsylvania, 54 percent in Ohio, nearly 57 percent in Wisconsin, and almost 60 percent in Iowa. In all of those states, exit polls found that Trump amassed significantly wider margins among working-class whites than Mitt Romney did four years earlier. Those gaping margins powered Trump’s narrow victories in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, the states that keyed his election.
Even so, blue-collar whites’ continued decline in the electorate, including in the states where they are most critical, reaffirms the concerns of Trump’s GOP critics that he is defining the party in a manner that wins over those voters at too high a price: the alienation of white-collar whites and minorities, two groups that are growing in number. “Nothing has repealed the long-term demographic trends in the electorate,” Ayres said. “What Trump did was lock us more completely into a declining portion of the electorate at the cost of an increasing portion of the electorate.”
Moreover, while Trump’s sustained emphasis on nationalist policies on trade and immigration have helped him maintain his connection with blue-collar whites, in both his budget and his support for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, he is backing severe retrenchment of federal programs that benefit large numbers of those voters. As Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, tweeted last week after the release of Trump’s budget: “Obama-Trump voters get gov’t benefits - and like it.” A Quinnipiac University national poll released Thursday, for instance, found that the House-passed Obamacare replacement faced opposition from not only about two-thirds of both minorities and college-educated whites, but also a plurality of non-college-educated whites.
If the continued decline of blue-collar whites is the principal warning sign for Republicans in the new figures, the red light flashing most brightly at Democrats is the disappointing turnout among minorities. Though Trump presented a uniquely polarizing and provocative foil, the Census figures showed that turnout in 2016 sagged among Hispanics and skidded among African Americans.