The impeachment inquiry of Donald Trump is still in its early stages, but Democrats can already take one important lesson to heart. The polls show that the views of most so-called “working class” white people have not budged from their support of Trump, while a major shift has occurred among more educated (and correspondingly more wealthy) white Democrats, men and women alike.
What that means in a broader sense—and this is crucial for whomever is our nominee to internalize—is that appeals by Democrats to non-college educated white voters are a wholesale waste of time. There will be no votes to be found among those people, no matter how many “programs” or “incentives” are laid out, and no matter how much “retraining” or “tax relief” is promised to fill gaps left by the dead or dying industries that employ these people. They haven’t listened, they are not going to listen, and the proof is that they are not listening now.
Steve Phillips, writing for The Nation, explains why, when looking at the polling, its important to distinguish between the white people who support impeachment ,and those who do not.
The polling data couldn’t make it more clear that the white people who are finally moving away from supporting Trump are college-educated—not the working-class whites that many Democrats and reporters obsess over. (Pollsters and journalists often use “working-class” and “non–college educated” interchangeably.) In August, support among all whites for impeachment and removal of the president stood at 27 percent in a Monmouth University poll. After the first whistle-blower filed a complaint in August about Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, the impeachment inquiry was launched in late September, and the White House released the partial transcript of the Zelensky call, public opinion turned.
Indeed, public opinion did turn. But only for one group of white people: those with college education.
By the end of September, overall white support for impeachment had risen to 34 percent in that month’s Monmouth poll. Nearly all of that change, however, came from college-educated whites whose enthusiasm for ending the Trump presidency rose by 70 percent—jumping from 26 percent supporting it to 44 percent. For whites with no college degree, however, allegiance to Trump stayed strong, and support for impeachment barely budged, with a small uptick of 2 percent.
The data (thus far) is indisputable. For some reason (and it’s not hard to guess what that reason is), “working class” whites are standing by Trump, despite everything that’s come down the road to reveal his character and nature. Whether it’s rape and assault allegations, looting the U.S. Treasury to enrich himself and his family, selling us out to the Russians, starting a pointless trade war with China, stabbing our allies in the back and dishonoring our military, or tearing families apart and putting children into cages, there is nothing—NOTHING!—that will change the minds of a significant percentage of those those sad-ass white men and women you see baying, like rabid wolves, at any given Trump rally.
Hillary Clinton called them “deplorables.” What they’ve shown themselves to be is worse than that—they have proved themselves to be blithely, even happily, indifferent—or worse, hostile—to American institutions, norms, and the rule of law. That is the very definition of someone who is simply un-American. And, Phillips points out, nothing is going to change their votes come November 2020.
[S]ince non-college-educated white Americans will be the last to leave the Trump ship of state, it is foolhardy to spend significant time, money, and attention trying to change their minds. Ever since Trump’s election, many in the progressive movement have obsessed over finding ways to “win back” the white working class…If conservative, white, working-class voters are sticking with Trump even after his corruption has been laid bare by this impeachment process, they’re not going to be swayed by slick ads attacking the administration’s pro-billionaire tax policies.
That doesn’t mean we abandon policies that benefit the “working class,” of course. As Phillips states, the Affordable Care Act was enacted to benefit all members of the working and middle class, without regard to race or political ideology. The same is true for programs increasing subsidies for child care, or access to education. It does mean that it’s beyond time to stop trying to chase this mythical white, Trump-voting, so-called “Democratic” voter whom we irrationally expect to experience some kind of “epiphany” and recognize that his Trump vote was a vote against his own interests, or come to some sudden realization he or she has been suckered by a con man. That is never going to happen, as these polls continue to confirm.
What the impeachment polls show is that the most potential for expanding white support lies with those college-educated whites who, to this point, have found ways to rationalize, minimize, and excuse Trump’s conduct and destructive policies. Some sector of this demographic does still believe in this country’s democratic institutions and the principles of patriotism that they grew up embracing. What the developments of the past couple months show is that emphasizing the core concept of “country over party” does have some persuasive value—there is, in fact, some behavior by this president that is just a bridge too far.
Phillips also notes the “irony” that it is so many of the white people in this country who have to be “brought around” to the values of patriotism and love of country. Meanwhile, people of color have most strongly supported the impeachment of Donald Trump from the outset. They understand, apparently more than most white citizens, the grave threat he represents to everything we’ve come to love and cherish about our nation, and the better country want for ourselves and our families.
Perhaps that’s because people of color have been the target of Trump’s rancid policies and rhetoric since he assumed office. And perhaps some “college-educated” whites actually did get something for their education, and can finally recognize how destructive this president has been. Whatever the reason, it makes sense to focus this brand of persuasion effort on voters who have shown themselves willing and able to change their thinking. And to the extent some “working class” whites did vote Democratic in 2016, it is a virtual certainty that we will earn their votes again in 2020.
The rest? They’re just a waste of our time.