Four years ago, one of the big splits in perceptions of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama centered on whom each candidate would fight for if elected (or reelected). A slim majority of Americans thought Obama would be a better candidate to improve the status of the middle class. Nearly two-thirds thought that Romney would be the better candidate to advance the interests of the wealthy. Romney was favored on that latter (not necessarily politically useful) metric by 41 points.
In the Washington Post/ABC News poll released on Sunday, we see that the numbers in this year's likely general election match-up are about the same. Hillary Clinton has a 10-point advantage over Donald Trump on advocacy for the middle class, matching her advantage on advocating for the working class (which we didn't ask in 2012). But Trump has a 40-point margin in terms of who adult Americans think will advance the interests of the wealthy.
When we asked this question in 2012, whites without a college degree — a decent approximation of the white working class — differed from the rest of the population in that they figured Romney would be the better champion for the middle class. About half of whites with no degree picked Romney over Obama in that regard — and picked Romney over Obama to the same degree as everyone else.
This year, things are different. Whites without a college degree see Trump as the best candidate to advance the concerns of the wealthy by 35 points — and to advance the needs of the working and middle classes by about 30 points each.
That's a wide gap.
It's likely linked to the fact that whites without a college degree now support Trump by a much wider margin than they did Romney in 2012. At that point, they preferred Romney by 24 points. Now, they support Trump by 40.
Our May 2012 poll slightly undersold the extent to which whites without a college degree would prefer Romney; he ended up winning by 26 points according to exit polls reported by FiveThirtyEight's David Wasserman. But Wasserman also provides an important footnote to that figure: The percentage of whites without a college degree in the electorate has dropped three points in each contest since 2008.
FiveThirtyEight also made a demographic predictor of how changing turnout and support among groups would have changed 2012. If whites without a college degree had backed Romney by four more percentage points, Ohio and Florida would have flipped to Romney.
Setting aside how other demographic groups might change — like Hispanics — that's the path to victory that Trump sees. As it stands, his confidence in that demographic backing him by a wide margin is warranted.