They’re the one group whose support for impeachment isn’t growing.
Anne Kim | October 25, 2019
Despite a nonstop onslaught of fresh and damning revelations about his misconduct in office, President Donald Trump has so far maintained his core supporters’ loyalty. As of the start of this week, Trump’s average approval rating holds at 42 percent—only slightly less than the share of Americans opposing the inquiry into his impeachment.
But for Democrats desperate to oust the president, either by impeachment or the ballot, breaching this “red wall” of support (if, in fact, it can be breached) is a matter of utmost importance. Democrats face two key questions: who are Trump’s most stalwart defenders, and can they be persuaded to abandon him?
New research suggests an answer to the first of these queries. It’s a group that Democrats should—and could—be winning over: blue-collar white women. While Democrats made crucial gains among these voters in the 2018 election, these women may now be rallying to Trump’s defense.
Opinion polls have shown increased momentum toward impeachment since evidence came to light that Trump pressured Ukraine to dig up dirt on the Biden family. As of October 21, Real Clear Politics’ average found that 51.0 percent of Americans support an inquiry, whereas 42.8 percent are opposed. Among blue collar white women, however sentiment is moving in the opposite direction, according to Trendency Research, which maintains a longitudinal panel of more than 1,000 Americans polled daily.
As of October 21, Trendency found that a solid majority (54 percent) of non-college-educated white women either outright oppose or lean against impeachment, while just 37 percent strongly support it. In fact, blue-collar white women are the strongest opponents of impeachment among all white voters (see chart below). This opposition is in stark contrast to college-educated white women, among whom only 26 percent indicated “no support” for impeachment as of October 21.
Blue-collar white women also seem relatively impervious to the dramatic developments shifting public opinion over the last month. Trendency found that the share of non-college white women indicating “no support” for impeachment has dropped by only one percentage point since the end of September, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi formally announced the inquiry.
Blue-collar white men, in contrast, have swung dramatically in favor of impeaching Trump. While just 26 percent of blue-collar white men showed “strong” support for impeachment as of September 28—with 59 percent who outright opposed—40 percent of these men now strongly support impeachment as of October 21 and a minority of 47 percent now oppose it. (College-educated white men show a similar and even more dramatic swing, as the chart below shows.) Among all adults, Trendency found that 52 percent supported impeachment as of the same date, a figure in line with polling averages maintained by trackers like RealClearPolitics and FiveThirtyEight.
Trendency CEO Stefan Hankin told me his firm has not yet conducted research to understand the seeming divergence in blue-collar white women’s attitudes toward impeachment compared to every other group.
It’s a question worth urgent exploration.
By sheer numbers, blue-collar white women are the nation’s biggest voting bloc. According to Democratic political research firm Catalist, non-college-educated white women made up 25 percent of voters in 2018 and 26 percent of voters in 2016. These women outnumber both non-college white men, who accounted for 22 percent of the 2018 voters, and college-educated white women, who comprised just 15 percent of the 2018 electorate.
Luckily for Democrats, blue-collar white women are still a potentially winnable group. Catalist’s analysis, for instance, found that while Democratic candidates lost among both blue collar men and women in 2018, the margin of defeat among non-college-educated white women was half that among non-college-educated white men. (Democrats lost by 36 points among blue-collar white men and 18 points among blue-collar white women.)
These women have also shown more willingness to cross the aisle. Although college-educated suburban white women won much of the credit for delivering House Democrats a majority in 2018, blue-collar white women have shown some shifting allegiances, even if not of the same magnitude. Democrats’ performance with them in 2018 was still a three-point improvement over 2016, according to Catalist. (By comparison, Democrats gained 11 points among college-educated white women, solidifying their new status as a core constituency of the party.)
One potential explanation for Democrats’ gains among white women—a traditionally loyal GOP constituency—is that both college-educated and non-college-educated white women have similar economic priorities, despite major differences on cultural issues such as immigration. A November 2018 poll by Expedition Strategies for the Progressive Policy Institute found that both groups of women cited health care, Social Security, and Medicare as their top three concerns.
Both groups are also economically anxious. The Democratic economic message, with its promises of a broader safety net, may appeal to many of these women. Post-election focus groups conducted by pollster Stan Greenberg for the American Federation of Teachers found that Democrats’ messaging on health care was especially appealing to non-college-educated white women.
All of these findings, however, predate the inquiry into Trump’s impeachment. The question now is whether the specter of impeachment has catalyzed renewed support among blue-collar white women for the president and erased the gains from the 2018 election.
For Democrats, regaining their toehold among these voters means two things. First, and most significantly, it means investing more resources in understanding what’s happening with blue-collar white women—and why. Democrats cannot afford to overlook this vital constituency; they should neither write them off, nor take them for granted. Second, Democrats should continue to push their message on health care and other kitchen-table issues that matter to all voters. The party leadership’s current instincts are correct that impeachment should not overtake the entirety of the political conversation through next fall.
Ultimately, though, Democrats can’t view this challenge as a test of Trump’s resiliency with the white working-class voters that comprise so much of his base. Rather, Democrats have to see it as a test of whether they can devise a durable economic message that outweighs Trumpism’s appeal and unites women across all socioeconomic lines. It’s a challenge they should tackle now, before it’s too late.
Anne Kim is a writer based in northern Virginia and the author of Abandoned: America’s Lost Youth and the Crisis of Disconnection, forthcoming in 2020. She was special projects editor at the Washington Monthly in 2013 and senior writer from 2015 to 2018.