• Flyover Voters More Tired Than Angry

    October 4, 2020

    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Trump

    If the word for 2016 flyover voters was “angry,” in 2020 it’s “tired.” Anger four years ago put Trump in the White House, but it is unclear if tired will work for Biden. The Democrats’ strategy — our candidate isn’t Trump — may leave too many voters staying home.

    I spent a couple of days in Pennsylvania (before RBG’s death) talking to people, as it may be the keystone of the swing states, the one to decide the election. It’s a strange place politically, once described as “Philly in the East, Pittsburgh in the West, and Alabama in between.” I visited in between, the people I chatted with consisting of those who would talk with me. Sometimes a few words, sometimes a couple of Yuenglings. But before dismissing any conclusions as too random to matter, consider in the current climate just how inaccurate polling is. I found folks slow to discuss what they were thinking, testing to see if I was going to bite them for not wearing a mask, or rant off about America being great again. It took more than “Which candidate do you support?” to learn much, especially when I felt I’d learned there are a helluva lot of shades of purple out there, and not much enthusiasm.

    In the mostly small towns I visited in, there were three types of people. Those who’d left a long time ago, those thinking about leaving, and those stuck there. Where in 2016 there was anger and passion, this year America just seems tired. The endless stream of Trump atrocities talked about on Sunday morning TV is not what voters are talking about. What neither candidate seems to address, or even be more than vaguely aware of, is how much on-the-ground economics matters to the people left in these places.

    Each town is an archaeological site, old brick buildings that used to make… what? Sometimes there are clues, a mini mall with far more vape shops than one place needs in an broken industrial cavern with the words American Ribbon still visible on the facade. Other times it’s an unused smokestack filled with echoes of small manufacturing. Look around and you can find the old train depot near main street (it’s either abandoned or a too-cute coffee shop.) The tracks themselves are buried like some ancient river.

    Nobody really believes the blue collar middle class life they remember from their childhoods, or for the young, from Grandpa’s rambling tales, is coming back, but they are desperate for a bone. Trump promised in 2016 to do something about the local economy and never really tried. Biden says he will revive things, but leaves hanging the question of why he didn’t do that during his eight years in the White House. Running on Obama’s record means just that, and people here remember more about those eight years than some nice speeches. People cringe when they hear Biden defend Obamacare. Unlike journos who tweet about it from Brooklyn while on company sponsored Blue Cross, these people tried and failed to get good health care instead of just insurance out of the plan. Like Bernie, Trump didn’t fix it, but he isn’t Joe telling people it’s all they’re ever gonna get either.

    People remember it was the Democrats who voted for NAFTA and crushed out their last wind (Biden voted for NAFTA) and while Biden claimed in 2008 it should be renegotiated during the Obama years, it wasn’t. It was Trump who renegotiated the agreement, and while that didn’t really help much here it is seen as better than nothing. People like Trump’s trade battles with China. Nobody is naive enough to think they will change much, but they like to see the pain spread around. “F*ck the Chinese” was heard more than once.

    While it is unclear if Trump will be seen as failing on his promises or just having made a weak try, it is hard to overstate how deeply these Americans despise the Obama response to the 2008 financial crisis. Many saw the values of their homes, the largest investments they will ever make, dramatically decrease. They don’t own much stock outside of flaccid IRAs, and so they benefited little from a recovery that first bailed out Wall Street. Trump certainly did his own best economic work for Wall Street, but home prices have risen over the last few years for many of the people, with even an odd twist: much of the area is within an hour or two of New York City, and city people fleeing COVID to buy homes out here have driven up prices (asking about real estate is a great conversation starter.)

    There are truths here. Social Security SSI, Medicaid, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and housing assistance are a way of life now. One can accept food stamps but still think handouts are for the lazy. People can feel cheated working for minimum wage at a Walmart full of junk made overseas without being anti-immigrant. Legitimate anger doesn’t make you a racist. Trump understands all this better than the Democrats now speaking for their party, and that makes his voters ignore a lot of the things that drive progressives and the MSM into derangement. Biden meanwhile stumbles to gain relevance, frequently mentioning his roots in Scranton, Pennsylvania, making people smile Midwest-polite knowing he hasn’t lived there since age 11, 1953, when the place was thriving.

    The entire premise of the Democratic strategy misunderstood Trump’s election as a fluke if not an outright scam. Instead, Trump stumbled onto something hidden in plain sight. Large numbers of Americans, mostly white and formerly middle class, were angry (whites without bachelor’s degrees make up 55 percent of Pennsylvania’s population 25 or older). They were getting poorer, they could not find decent jobs, and they wanted someone if not to fix it, to tell them who to blame. The Democrats tell them to blame themselves for being racist and uneducated — learn to code! Trump tells them it is not their fault. It was because of Obama, it was the Chinese, it was the Democrats, NAFTA, immigrants. Neither narrative is fully true but which one will find residuals of that anger to drive turnout? Hint: The area went for Trump in 2016. Prior to his victory, Pennsylvania voted Democrat in six straight presidential elections. Based on new registrations, Democrats lost more Pennsylvania voters in the last four years than they have gained. More Democrats also abandoned their party to become Independents compared to Republicans.

    People worry Biden is a Trojan Horse; not a single person could name a Biden signature policy initiative. They worry Democrats who don’t understand them will really be in charge. To some it seems men, old people, straight people, entire regions of the country, are being excluded or deemed unworthy. It isn’t status anxiety but a sense that what used to be a difference of political opinion now makes someone illegitimate as a person. They hear people who may soon be running the government call them haters and racists just because they are poor and white. While Trump is a known element, Biden could mean Obama without the gravitas, or he could mean a Pelosi regency, or a progressive charge of night riders lead by Harris. Like Biden, Trump is old and sick, but if not Trump you get Pence, not the deluge.

    When people are excluded from the most important decisions affecting their lives they lose faith. That bitter lived experience fueled distrust and an ideological drift that manifested itself in electing Trump in 2016 (it could have just as likely elected Bernie over Trump then.) And that distrust hasn’t dissipated enough for many to vote Democrat, even if they won’t vote Trump. Many of the people of color I met felt the same way as their white neighbors. Having started at the same place in the factories and fallen together into poverty, they ended up in the same dismal state as whites. A big difference, however, is that black frustration often shows up as low voter turnout, while whites vote Republican.

    Who wins Pennsylvania in November seems a battle of enthusiasm. Little understood by the coastal MSM is the important role of conservative talk radio in these areas. People spend a fair amount of time in their vehicles, and they listen to regional and local talk radio sometimes for hours. Nobody in New York pays much attention to these very conservative hosts, many mixing religious and political themes. They are skillful in using listener call-ins to make it seem an agenda is organic when it is driven. The idiots who draw societal trends and conclusions from Twitter have no idea who powerful a force this may be in driving a turnout which will favor Trump.

    For example, a lot of talk radio focuses on sports. Sports are a big deal out here, high school, college, and the pros. Nobody is happy to see games canceled because of COVID, and few seemed happy about the massive political tumor growing on sports, even if they supported the general ideas of BLM. Save it for off the field was what most said. Extreme loyalty toward a team has replaced a lot other loyalties in these people’s lives and should not be messed with lightly. It looks like just an affinity for the Yankees or  the Nittany Lions, but there is deeper water underneath. Trump’s role in getting the Big Ten teams back on the field was not overlooked. If many of the issues the MSM cares about come up a wash between Trump and Biden, don’t underestimate this kind of small-but-it-matters-to-me thing.

    For an exhausted electorate, tired now of being tired, that might just be enough.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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  • Recent Comments

    • John Poole said...

      1

      Pennsyltucky folk have figured out with only a high school education that the federal government doesn’t care about them. It took a college degree for me to realize their plight so Trump has indeed been a uniter. They may not know what they’ll do or should do this coming election just like me seven miles outside the city of Philadelphia.

      10/4/20 3:38 PM | Comment Link

    • Joe said...

      2

      Here’s another fun fact about PA: A couple of weeks ago that state’s Democrat majority Supreme Court sided with DNC activists and kicked the Green Party presidential candidate off their 2020 ballot. The ostensible reason for this was administrative irregularities but even a blind man can see that the DNC is trying to force Green Party supporters in this “battleground state” to vote for Biden. Limiting the choice of voters in an election – how very woke, progressive and democratic of the DNC!

      10/4/20 9:20 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      3

      Joe: Pennsyltuckians would welcome the third party option as long it was headed by a coach with a winning season.

      10/5/20 11:14 AM | Comment Link

    • Joe said...

      4

      John: We’re a long way from third parties ever having a winning season in this country. But if we were to adopt Instant Runoff Voting (aka Rank Choice Voting) – as Maine currently does for its Federal Representatives – it would go a long way towards making third parties more relevant. Which is precisely why most Republicans and Democrats oppose it. And speaking of commonalities between the two major parties, how about the DNC using administrative shenanigans to bully the Green Party candidate off the ballot in your state? I mean, how dare those Green idiots think they have the right to vote for anyone but the candidate chosen by the DNC?

      10/5/20 4:49 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      5

      Joe: so we’re left with the lesser of two evils again. If Biden wins he will make empty promises like Obama with his hope and change ruse and then pass the baton to Harris. The Blue Light guys who fancy themselves as the new Minutemen will not take orders from a hectoring “bitch” nor will most of Trump’s supporters. Normal citizens will have to accommodate an added burden of trying avoid the fray. That’s life! (well, at least on this orb in this solar system)

      10/9/20 2:19 PM | Comment Link

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