Donald Trump stood in front of a bunch of men in hard hats on Wednesday during a campaign stop in Virginia to make a simple pitch. It was he, not Hillary Clinton, who would protect their jobs in the coal industry. It was he who would protect the employment opportunities of working-class Americans. The crowd behind him reinforced a subtext to Trump’s promises: He would be a champion of the working-class white man.
That’s been central to Trump’s campaign strategy. He would inspire infrequently voting white men, even Democrats, to come to the polls in the way that Ronald Reagan did in 1980. That was why Pennsylvania was in play, and why he figured that he could probably run the table in the Rust Belt.
It increasingly seems that Pennsylvania is not in play. At the moment, Trump trails by an average of 9 points, even among the usually Republican-leaning pool of likely voters included in Quinnipiac University’s new poll released on Tuesday. Which may be because Trump’s purported base of support, white working-class men, are less likely to vote than other demographic groups.
In the new Washington Post/ABC News poll, 62 percent of white men without a college degree said that they were “absolutely certain” to vote this year. By comparison, 90 percent of white women with a college degree said they were absolutely certain to do so.
That’s not much different from where those numbers were in August of 2012. At that point, the figures were 64 and 89, respectively. What’s changed is how those voters plan to vote — and the extent to which Trump relies on the former group.
In exit polling from 2012, white men without degrees supported Mitt Romney by 31 points. They support Trump, per our new poll, by 42 points — an 11-point improvement. But those college-educated white women backed Romney by 6 points — and Hillary Clinton this year by 19. That’s a 25-point swing, among a demographic group that’s more likely to say they plan to vote.
And, in fact, to actually turn out. According to data from the Current Population Survey, 55 percent of white men without college degrees voted in 2012, while 79 percent of college-educated white women did. That’s lower than the percentage that reported that they planned to do so in each case, but the latter group — a group that’s friendlier to Clinton this year — still cast more votes.
Other demographic groups with which Clinton performs well also say they are certain to vote at lower rates than college-educated white women, including black voters (62 percent) and Hispanics (40 percent). In 2008 and 2012, turnout rates among black voters increased; if that slumps, it could be problematic for Clinton. But as Pew Research noted earlier this year, the electorate this year will probably be the most diverse in history, continuing an ongoing trend. (I’ll repeat my favorite turnout factoid: The 2014 electorate was as nonwhite as the electorate that elected President Obama in 2008.) In other words, a decline in turnout among black voters from 2012 will be offset somewhat by the increased number of nonwhite voters compared with four years ago.
It’s harder to measure, but there may be another problem for Trump as far as turnout goes. In Bloomberg’s new poll, Trump’s supporters were less enthusiastic about their candidate than Hillary Clinton’s. Enthusiasm is key for turnout; if you're indifferent about a candidate, you’re less likely to go out in the rain to cast your vote.
With 90 days until the election, the wave of working class white men that Donald Trump hoped would carry him to victory doesn’t seem to be particularly inclined to do so.
Scott Clement contributed to this report.