'I just don't want Trump for another four years.' Are working-class white women going to elect Biden?
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks outside Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania on Tuesday. (Alex Edelman / AFP / Getty Images)
Nicole Peyton voted in the 2016 election because she disliked President Trump's behavior and believed Hillary Clinton was "running". But this year the "conservatively oriented" housewife plans to cast a vote for the Democrat Joe Biden.
“He would be a better option. Everyone is better than Trump, said Peyton, 31, who dropped out of college to have her first child. Trump is a bad example for her five children, she said when picking up pizza for her family's dinner on a Friday.
Whether women like Peyton choose to endorse Biden could determine who wins critical battlefield states like Michigan - which won Trump by 10,704 votes, or 0.23% - as well as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The population identified by respondents as white women without a college degree was overwhelmingly supportive of Trump in 2016, but his standing with them has declined.
Trump beat Clinton by 27 percentage points among those voters, a void fueled by enthusiasm for Trump and voters like Peyton who stayed home because they couldn't bring themselves to vote for Clinton.
Nicole Peyton, 31 (Seema Mehta / Los Angeles Times)
Working-class white women still support Trump, but by a far smaller margin, recent polls show some give the president a teenage or single-digit advantage, even in battlefield states. Other polls show that Biden is winning this demographic in certain states.
In Pennsylvania, where Trump won the support of white women without college degrees with 20 points in 2016, President Biden leads Biden with 10 points, according to a poll by NBC News / Marist on September 9. In Wisconsin and Minnesota, where Trump easily won that electorate, he is 9 and 19 points behind Biden, respectively, according to an ABC News / Washington Post poll on Sept. 16. In Michigan, Biden leads Trump 52 to 43 in the demographic as of Sept. 25, according to a poll by NBC News / Marist.
"You can't see a working class insurrection like that of 16 unless women are clearly part of it," said Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg.
This revolt was fueled by voters in places like Paw Paw, a hamlet of 3,500 residents whose skyline is dominated by the historic Van Buren County Courthouse, a classic revival structure made of yellow sandstone bricks topped with a red tile roof and an Italian Renaissance clock tower.
In Van Buren County, which is 92% white and where 4 out of 5 residents have no college degree, voters voted twice for President Obama before switching to Trump in 2016.
Kristal Petty, 30, is staying with Trump despite saying her family and community have suffered badly in recent months.
Kristal Petty, 30. (Seema Mehta / Los Angeles Times)
“It was really, really rough. Lots of pantries, lots of bill payment arrangements, ”Petty said when she stopped by a Dollar Tree discount store.
But she blames the state's Democratic governor, not Trump.
“The president is enormous. He does a lot, ”said Petty, who is the caretaker for her father. "It's 100% Social Security and helps reduce drug bills for the elderly. That means a lot when you consider my parents are both diabetic and my father had a stroke."
She hoped that after his diagnosis of the coronavirus, Americans would get together to sympathize with the president.
"COVID does not discriminate. I wish President Trump a speedy recovery," said Petty. "Hopefully everyone will notice now that they are human. He did not cause that."
Petty said she appreciated the president's openness, although she sometimes wished he tweeted less. "In some cases I wish he wasn't so open," she said. "But it's refreshing to have a president who doesn't try to sugarcoat everything."
Repeating the Trump campaign message about his Democratic rival, Petty said she had no faith in Biden's ability to lead the nation.
"He's a laughing stock," she said. "I mean, I've seen interviews with him and he's fiddling with his own words, saying one thing in one interview and something completely different in another."
GOP strategist Alex Conant said that in 2016 Trump "far exceeded" the expectations of workers like Petty.
"We're not seeing this cycle repeat itself," he said, adding that two factors are driving the president's declining support among these women - Trump's rude behavior since he took office, and that for the most part these voters dislike Biden they did it to Clinton.
"Democrats benefit from a candidate who doesn't have such high negative ratings from working-class voters. And then the second problem is that Trump's tweets have really turned off a disproportionate number of women voters over the past four years," said Conant, who was up asked the battlefield states about the pandemic: "Women are more likely to say that they will not support the president because they do not like his character."
This is exactly the concern of Jackie, a 67-year-old retired forklift driver who refused to give her last name. She voted for Trump in 2016, but is torn as to whether she will support him or Biden in November.
“I don't like President Trump because he talks like that and demotes everyone. But I like the way the economy was doing well before all of this happened, ”said the Portage resident as she ate an ice cream cone on the shores of Lake Michigan in downtown Holland. “And so I have no idea what I'll do when I'm in this voting booth. I keep going back and forth, back and forth. "
Trump's behavior is one of the sticking points for Peyton. She watched Trump downplay the risks of the coronavirus while friends of hers contracted it and battled symptoms for months. And she saw the economy come to a standstill in this small village in southwest Michigan.
"We're all still holding our breath," said Peyton.
When she first heard that Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19, she asked if he was really sick. When he was hospitalized, Peyton said she hoped the president learned from the experience.
"It is time he understood how serious this virus is," she said. "I really hope he will recover so that he can get right all the wrong things he said and did while dealing with this pandemic."
Everything that happened in the past week confirmed her decision to vote for Biden.
Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster advising the Biden campaign, said the concerns of many working class women had grown exponentially during the pandemic.
"They really believe that COVID has threatened their families and they see themselves as protectors of their families and they believe that it is making their jobs harder at every turn," said Lake.
They are disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and many are helping their children attend virtual school while they try to work from home - if their job allows them to work remotely at all, Lake said. They have fewer resources than trained working women to outsource these tasks.
However, the views of working class women are deeply shaped by their personal experiences trying to keep their families afloat at a time when Wall Street has recovered but Main Street has not, Lake said.
"They get the bills, they set the family health insurance plan, they know what mom's nursing home costs," said Lake. "The chaos that Donald Trump is introducing is sitting at these women's kitchen tables right now."
It's a message Sarah Longwell, a Republican strategist who supports Biden, hears all the time from women in the focus groups she has held in battlefield states for the past two years.
Longwell said many of these women credit Trump for his pre-pandemic work on the economy and value some of his political positions such as his immigration movements.
"The problem for Trump is that as the coronavirus progressed and reddened, we haven't been able to get the coronavirus under control, and other countries have done it. People are getting increasingly frustrated that this isn't over and it makes people more willing to look for a change, ”Longwell said.
One message she hears repeatedly is, “This person is not doing a good job right now. Objectively, things are bad. “Trump can talk what he wants about the stock market. These people feel in trouble in their life and the stock market that is doing well is not helping them. "
Peggy Stermer, 42, said if the president had taken the coronavirus more seriously, the pandemic might not be as bad. The political independent, who voted for Obama but had to sit out in 2016, lost her job at a plant that made cereal boxes and now looks after her parents.
"He couldn't have downplayed it or made any public statements that he wasn't wearing a mask," said Stermer. "I think that would have helped encourage more people to get on board or slowed the spread."
Stermer didn't vote in 2016 because she was too busy, she said, but plans to cast a ballot for Biden in November.
"I think he'll do a decent job. I don't know if he'll do a great job. But he has eight years of experience as a vice president and I think he knows how it works in Washington," she said. But mainly I don't want Trump for four years. "
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
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