The Rushmore Report: 2016 – The Year of the Disaffected Voter

The fact that Donald Trump is the Republican presumptive nominee and Bernie Sanders is still chugging along in the Democratic primary can mean only one thing: Voters are angry. With 94 million Americans out of the workforce, middle class voters seeing wages decline, and the average college graduate facing $35,000 in student loan debt with few job prospects, it is no wonder people are so angry.

These disaffected voters could be Hillary Clinton’s undoing and propel Trump to the White House.

Clinton is facing a big problem. The “us versus them” populist messages of political outsiders Trump and Sanders have been music to the ears of so many Americans. They want to blow up the system Clinton has helped create and the system they believe has failed them. And failed it has: Middle Class Americans are suffering.

A new nationwide Pew Research study shines some light on why so many voters feel left behind by this economy. The study finds that middle class America is shrinking and wages are declining. Lead author Rakesh Kochhar said, “The shrinking of the American middle class is a pervasive phenomenon. It has increased polarization in incomes.”

The report finds that more than four-fifths of America’s metropolitan areas have seen household incomes decline this century. Only 39 out of 229 metro areas saw medium household incomes grow. With manufacturing jobs shrinking 29 percent, it is pretty obvious why Trump’s and Sanders’ anti-free trade messaging has resonated with voters who have seen their jobs sent overseas and manufacturers close.

The cities hardest hit are located in key electoral states like Michigan and Ohio, which could prove to be politically problematic for Clinton. Her unlikable personality and tone-deaf comments like “we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business” will not earn her any brownie points with these voters.

Further, her position on trade could end up hurting her with the working class voters who agree with Trump and Sanders that bad trade deals are hurting American workers.

It was her dumb coal comment and trade positions that caused her to get shellacked by Sanders in West Virginia, a state she won with over 60 percent of the vote in 2008. More than half of Democratic voters said that trade with other countries is taking jobs away from Americans; two-thirds of Republicans echoed that sentiment.

Even more problematic for Clinton is that 44 percent of Sanders voters said they would vote for Trump, while only 23 percent said they would vote for her, and 32 percent would vote for neither.

Exit polling from Michigan, another important swing state that Clinton embarrassingly lost, showed the same problem for her. A significant 57 percent of Democratic voters and 55 percent of Republicans believed that trade takes away American jobs.

Blue-collar workers aren’t the only ones who feel left behind by this economy. Whether it is the jobless college graduate who can’t find work or the African-American who is facing an unemployment rate that is twice as high as for Caucasians, Trump has an opportunity to tap into the frustrations of Americans in a way that Clinton cannot.

Yes, Republicans face a daunting electoral map, but Clinton is a uniquely unappealing candidate and Trump has already tapped into the disaffected voters who could help tip the balance of the 2016 election in his favor.

About the Author

Lisa Boothe is a contributing columnist for the Washington Examiner and president of High Noon Strategies.

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