America’s Factory Towns, Once Solidly Blue, Are Now a GOP Haven

A generation ago, Democrats represented much of the country’s manufacturing base. Now, it’s in GOP hands, a swing remaking both parties

After the 1992 election, 15 of the 20 most manufacturing-intensive Congressional districts in America were represented by Democrats. Today, all 20 are held by Republicans.

The shift of manufacturing from a Democratic stronghold to a Republican one is a major force remaking the two parties. It helps explain Donald Trump’s political success, the rise of Republican protectionism and the nation’s polarized politics. It will help shape this year’s midterm elections.

.. The new manufacturing heartland runs through areas outside suburbs along interstate highways south from Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin through Ohio and into the Carolinas and the deep South.

There, whites without a college education, who identified with the Republican Party’s focus on social issues and abortion restrictions, took up many of the factory jobs. The Trump administration’s tough stance on trade deepened the bonds with workers who believed they were hurt by free-trade deals.

.. “My image of Republicans is of a blue-collar type,” says Larry Smith, a 68-year-old weave room supervisor at Greenwood Mills Inc. in South Carolina’s third Congressional District. He voted for Democrats before, including Barack Obama in 2008, but sided with Mr. Trump in 2016. “Democrats come from more financially successful groups.”

His boss, Jay Self, says a lot of local voters were turned off to the Democratic Party when Bill Clinton eased the entry of China into the WTO in the late 1990s, which he blames for wrecking the textile business. His family-owned business employed around 3,000 people in the U.S. in 2000, he says. Now that workforce is just 320.

.. Rep. Derrick, who died in 2014, was succeeded by a series of Republicans, all of whom took conservative positions on social issues and opposed the free trade deals unpopular in the district. “Down here, the Democrats shifted their attention to career people like in the medical industry, accountant or lawyers,” Clemson University political scientist David Woodard. But current factory workers, he said, came from “linthead” families, using the local term for textile workers. “They all love Trump.”

Voters for Democrats now tend to be better educated, more urban and less likely to identify themselves as blue-collar than Republicans and Independents, according to pollsters.

.. While House Democrats overwhelmingly oppose free-trade deals, their voters don’t. By a 57% to 16% margin, Democrats said that free trade helped the U.S

.. Republicans, meanwhile, have become more attuned to the desires of manufacturers and their workers. They have led a crackdown on immigration, moved away from plans to privatize Social Security and support some infrastructure spending. Most notably, the party has retreated from free trade.

.. In December 1999, the earliest that The Wall Street Journal/NBC polled on trade issues, Republicans by a 37% to 31% margin said that free trade deals helped the U.S. By February 2017, the results were vastly different. By a 53% to 27% margin, Republicans said free trade hurt the U.S.

.. If his tariffs—and retaliation—damage local economies, the GOP could find its blue-collar base in a surly mood or apathetic about voting

.. Seven area golf courses, long establishment Republican strongholds, have closed since 2012. Without the GM plant, “there is no middle-level management that can afford the dues structure anymore,

.. At a meeting with local business leaders in May, he likened trade to a basketball game. “They are not calling fouls and no one is taking free throws,” he told the group. “I’m glad President Trump is making them call fouls.”

These Guys Really Like Trump

an unshakable faith in Donald Trump .. the outsider too rich to bribe and too strong to intimidate.

.. “When Joe first told me about Trump, I said no, that guy’s a bragger,” Mr. Paslow said. “Then I started listening to him, and I noticed, he’s a billionaire. If somebody comes along and says, ‘President Trump, I want to keep my plant in China and I want to close my plant here, here’s $50 million,’ he says, ‘I don’t need your money, mister.’ ”

.. They had both been out of work for more than a year, laid off from their jobs in oil and gas exploration with two weeks’ notice, no severance, no pension and no unemployment insurance — like many American workers, they were independent contractors, without the protections of full employment

.. offered them hope. He pledged to the crowd that he would bring back the oil and gas industry

.. They are quick to suspect conspiracy and corruption, in their state and in Washington. They thought even Mr. Trump might have his price — but luckily, it would be too high for most to afford.

.. They dismiss protesters as sore losers, and pundits who attack policy swings as establishment voices bent on sabotage. Where critics point to promises unfulfilled, they see obstacles that are not their president’s fault.

.. When fact checkers pounce, the two men see an insistence on petty detail when they know what their president really meant.

.. Even though Mr. Paslow welcomed the cleanup of a Pittsburgh once so polluted that streetlights went on by noon, he and his friend criticized Obama-era rules they saw as helping scuttle the shale gas boom and putting them out of work.

“There were thousands of rules; you had to wait six, eight months just for paperwork,” Mr. Peterson said. “It cost millions of dollars.”

“You couldn’t drill because the owls were mating,” Mr. Paslow said. Or the bats, Mr. Peterson added.

.. “The things that made this country great are disappearing — factories, jobs, education,” Mr. Paslow said. “Someone could get a job at the mill and live happily ever after. Now it’s Walmart and Best Buy. Come on — a job at Walmart when you could have had a nice life working at a factory?”

.. Mr. Paslow is grateful to have work, but he chafes at all the software he has to use, and misses the secretaries who used to help him input data. “It’s giving me headaches,” he said. “Now we’re typists.”

Whites without college degrees have fled the GOP


Post-graduates went by a slightly wider margin for Clinton than Obama:

2012: 18% of electorate, 55-42 Obama

2016: 18% of electorate, 58-37 Clinton

This furthers the distinct education gap in this election, especially among whites.

5. Whites without college degrees have fled to the GOP.

They were a group Democrats used to compete with. In 1992 and 1996, Bill Clinton won them by a point. But they have

Yes, working class whites really did make Trump win. No, it wasn’t simply economic anxiety.

We knew all along that Donald Trump drew his strength from the white working class. We knew this from the patterns in the primaries. We knew this from the nonstop polling conducted over the past 18 months. We knew this from all of the campaign-trail dispatches showing his anti-trade, anti-elite message thrilling crowds in the heartland.

.. Tuesday proved that this demographic remains a powerful force in U.S. politics — and the president-elect has thoroughly charmed the group.

.. The specks of red — where Trump won counties that previously voted for Obama — dot the Rust Belt. And these counties all had something in common. They were dominated by whites without a bachelor’s degree.

.. Even after controlling for income levels, employment levels, population size and the foreign-born population in a given county, the more white people there were who lacked a four-year degree, the more likely Trump outperformed Romney in that county. Roughly speaking, if you took an average county and increased the portion of less-educated whites by 10 percentage points, you would boost Trump’s winning margin by about three percentage points.

.. But these places have been like this for a while. In fact, Trump’s victory doesn’t seem to be linked to any recent declines in people’s economic circumstances. The economy has been getting better over the past four years. Median incomes have risen. The unemployment rate has plummeted including in regions won by Trump:

.. for politics, the economy is a state of mind.

.. Gallup economist Jonathan Rothwell has pointed out, surveys show that Trump supporters are not necessarily poorer than average. It may be that many are probably doing pretty well, but they may see others in their neighborhood who are struggling and decide that the nation, as a whole, isn’t that great anymore.

 .. People don’t always vote in their own self-interest — they think about what they believe will be good for the country as a whole.
.. Trump, on some level, understood the importance of making members of the white working class feel as though they were being heard. He tapped into deeper, slower-moving resentments.
..The economic woes people communicated to me … were interlaced with their sense of who they are, who is a part of their community, what their values are, who works hard in society, who is deserving of reward and public support, and how power is distributed in the world. This complex set of ideas is the product of many years of political debate at the national level as well as generations of community members teaching these ideas to each other. This entwined set of beliefs was not something that any one politician instilled in people overnight — or even over a few months.
In other words, the tension was always there. Trump just found a new way to flick at it.
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