In October 2016, I visited Steubenville, Ohio, to give a lecture at Franciscan University. During my stay, to get a sense of Trump’s popularity, I asked a student to drive me around the city’s blue-collar neighborhoods.
Steubenville, located in Jefferson County, is 35 miles west of Pittsburgh Airport.
Like much of eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, Jefferson County has fallen on hard times. In 1990, 20 percent of jobs were in manufacturing. Today it is down to 5.3 percent for that labor sector.
The population, 99,000 in 1960, is now 67,000. The average income is 29 percent below the national average; $37,000 vs. $53,000.
The median age in this once booming industrial area has risen to 44.3 years versus 37.6 years in the U.S. and 39.2 years in Ohio.
The population is older because the children and grandchildren of America’s Greatest Generation have moved on to greener economic pastures in the southwest — and south.
Those left behind are mostly socially conservative and Catholic. Jefferson, which is 91 percent white, has more Irish, Poles, and Italians than any other county in Ohio.
Jefferson’s citizens had been loyal to the Democratic Party for decades. Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Gore, Kerry and Obama carried the County.
But in 2008, the political demographic began to change. Obama only squeaked by, receiving 49.1 percent of the vote versus McCain’s 48.9 percent.
Four years later, politicians were shocked that Mitt Romney outpolled Obama, 51.5 percent to 46..
Hence, when driving around Steubenville’s working-class neighborhoods, I was not surprised to see Trump signs on almost every lawn.
After my tour, I was convinced Trump would carry Ohio.
In November, Trump clobbered Hillary Clinton in Jefferson County, 65.5 percent to 30.0 percent. He carried Ohio 51 percent to Clinton’s 43 percent.
I have argued for years that if Rust Belt states are closely contested, blue-collar Catholics would determine a presidential election. And that’s exactly what happened in 2016.
Why this happened is revealed in "The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics," by Salena Zito and Brad Todd.
The analysis is two dimensional. Salena Zito, a journalist for the New York Post gives the micro explanation. She spent the 2016 campaign interviewing folks on the ground.
The macro view comes from Brad Todd, a political consultant and pollster. His company, OnMessage Inc., conducted the revealing "Great Revolt Survey," of 2,000 Trump voters in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Iowa, and Wisconsin.
What one learns in "The Great Revolt" is that Clinton’s Blue Wall states went Republican because working-class Democrats feel unwanted in their party.
One Democratic activist in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, observed, "My party . . . was supposed to be the party of the working guy, the guy I stood up and worked for all of my career was no longer part of the new ascending Democratic coalition. Blue-collar America essentially had the door shut in its face."
They turned to Trump because, "He was not a politician. He was not part of the system that has been failing a lot of people."
There were several different types of voters in the Rust Belt states that helped put Trump over the top. One such group the authors call "Rough Rebounders," are people who could forgive Trump’s imperfections and vices. "His coarseness and profanity … reinforced his authenticity to them—and made him a candidate worth walking through the fire of media ridicule to support."
Then there is the "Gut Gun Powers." The NRA waged a successful campaigning to convince women who had a strong self-defense position to cast their vote for Trump.
Other groups include:
Rotary Reliables. Rotary Club types saved the day for Trump in the suburbs where he ran behind Romney. Although not revolutionary types, watching their neighbors hurting economically they found Trump’s message attractive. They were also confident that Trump would appoint center-right federal judges.
Silent Suburban Moms. Although Trump’s margins of college-educated white women were down; he carried just enough of them in the swing states to win. Many of these women were embarrassed to tell their friends they were voting for Trump.
The attitude of the voters who coalesced to give Trump his electoral college victory, was best summed up by a nurse in Baldwin, Michigan, "We spent all of our lives doing the right things; we pay our taxes, we give back to our communities, we volunteer at our churches, coached or served on the PTA at our kids’ schools. And we voted for President Obama and still we are ridiculed. Still we are considered racists. There is no respect for anyone who is just average and trying to do the right things."
In 2016, the pundits, the polls, the media, and Clinton’s highly paid technology data geeks got many things wrong and lost, not least thanks to the turnout of "flyover country" working-class folks.
To understand the hearts and minds of those voters, read the book "The Great Revolt."
George J. Marlin, a former executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is the author of "The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact," and "Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy." He is chairman of Aid to the Church in Need-USA. Mr. Marlin also writes for TheCatholicThing.org and the Long Island Business News. To read more George J. Marlin — Click Here Now.
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