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.”