The Reason Poor White Men Support Donald Trump

August 3rd 2016

Danielle DeCourcey

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump appeals to one particular group of voters at a higher rate than Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton: working class white men without college degrees.

In July polls, Trump beat Clinton with white uneducated voters by a margin of 58 to 30 percent, according to The New York Times.

"Trump effects a tough guy manner that may be appealing to some, though certainly not all, working class white men," University of California, Los Angeles political science professor Joshua Foa Dienstag told ATTN:. "More importantly, he pretends to be an anti-elitist who sympathizes with the working class."

There are several aspects of Trump's rhetoric that "signal" his loyalty to working class white men.

Trump uses specific phrases to align himself with those voters and let them know that he understands their concerns.

"'Build a wall' is shorthand for 'no more immigrants,' and 'renegotiate NAFTA' is shorthand for 'I'll protect your jobs,'" said Dienstag. "Then all the various racist noises are ways to signal 'I'm on your side.'"

An 80-year-old theory about white laborers by W.E.B. Du Bois may explain it best.

These phrases probably work because of a specific phenomenon that Du Bois chronicled in the period after the abolition of American slavery. In his 1935 essay "Black Reconstruction in America," Dubois wrote about the "psychological wage" American society has traditionally paid poor white people.

"It must be remembered that the white group of laborers, while they received a low wage, were compensated in part by a sort of public and psychological wage. They were given public deference and titles of courtesy because they were white."

W.E.B. Dubois

Du Bois was saying that poor white laborers could take comfort in the fact that society traditionally valued them above racial and ethnic minorities. Although lower class whites were some of the poorest in society, they could hold on to their granted superiority over other groups and they could aspire to move into the white middle class, wrote Du Bois.

"They were admitted freely with all classes of white people to public functions, public parks, and the best schools. The police were drawn from their ranks, and the courts, dependent on their votes, treated them with such leniency as to encourage lawlessness. Their vote selected public officials, and while this had small effect upon the economic situation, it had great effect upon their personal treatment and the deference shown them."

A loss of manufacturing jobs, an opioid crisis that affects large groups of white people, and an increasing Latino population could make poor whites feel that they're losing their "psychological wage."

"Without a doubt, working class whites can feel economically and culturally isolated and Trump is attempting to capitalize on that with racist and xenophobic rhetoric that he hopes will mobilize them," said Dienstag.

Basically, as minorities and immigrants excel in this country, some poor white people feel increasingly threatened.

Kyle Kondik, managing editor of the Crystal Ball from The University of Virginia's Center for Politics told ATTN: that this threat is where Trump's rhetoric hits its mark.

"Trump scores very well among voters who score high on measurements of racial resentment and support for authoritarianism," he said. "His primary audience, white men and particularly white men with lower levels of education, may feel that the country is not working for them and that Trump can return to some previous era where they may have felt more comfortable with their place in society."

Trump's campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again" could translate to returning to a time when the middle class white American dream seemed accessible to poor white people, but not other groups.

"It’s impossible to view Trump in a vacuum apart from broader changes in American life, including increasing social liberalism and growing diversity," said. Kondik. "When Trump says 'Make America Great Again,' he is really arguing to turn back the clock on certain aspects of modernity, and I think some people find that appealing."

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