Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton says the economy and government have failed many white, working-class Americans, and that she understands why those workers would respond to the appeals of her likely Republican opponent, Donald Trump.
“I respect the fear, the anxiety, even the anger that a lot of people are feeling,” Clinton told The Washington Post in her first extended interview on economic issues since clinching the nomination, “because the advance of globalization and technology has really replaced or undermined the future for many jobs.”
“What people are feeling,” she added, “is that the economy failed them, their government failed them. They just are looking for somebody who will explain, in a way they will accept, what’s happened. So Trump comes along and he blames immigrants and he blames minorities and he blames women, and people are responsive to that because these are hard times that folks are going through.”
The comments appear to mark a renewed effort by Clinton to woo whites without college degrees, a demographic group that is key to her opponent’s chances of winning in November. She is struggling with that group, in comparison to President Obama in his 2012 re-election bid: a Washington Post-ABC News poll this month found 73 percent of non-college whites have an unfavorable view of Clinton, compared with 56 percent who saw Obama negatively four years ago.
Clinton may not need those voters to win in November, but if she can chip Trump’s support from them, his chances of victory will fall dramatically.
Economically unsettled workers, particularly whites without college degrees, have long formed the backbone of Trump’s electoral support. He has courted those workers by accusing immigrants and foreign trading partners of taking advantage of America, and political leaders for allowing that to happen. He has blasted U.S. companies that moved jobs overseas.
Clinton has targeted working-class anxieties throughout her campaign as well, though she has offered a more positive assessment of the recovery from recession under President Obama – and a marked contrast to Trump on most economic policy issues.
On Tuesday, Clinton used a speech in Ohio to paint Trump as a reckless steward of the economy, citing his business record and his comments on issues such as renegotiating the national debt. She cast his policies as likely to hurt beleaguered workers even further.
On Wednesday, she will detail her own vision to lift the middle class in a speech in North Carolina, including a heavy dose of government spending and new workplace rules meant to boost skills, wages and the ability of working parents to care for their children.
In the interview, shortly after her Ohio speech, Clinton sharpened that contrast.
Asked specifically about the roots of anxiety among white, working class Americans – particularly men – she responded, “I think it’s real.”
“You don’t have to go just to coal country to see that,” she said. “You can go to a lot of parts of America, where people had good, decent jobs that provided a good middle class life for them and their kids. That was the American Dream. That’s how we used to define it.”
“Now, we’ve seen so much downward pressure on wages. We’ve seen the disappearance of a lot of jobs. And so I do think globalization and technology have played a role. But I also think decisions made by business leaders and government leaders have also played a role.”
Clinton’s plans, which she has laid out throughout the campaign and will emphasize today in Raleigh, includes several measures she contends will boost wages and help workers cope with the changing economy.
It includes hundreds of billions of dollars in new federal infrastructure spending, a promise to ensure students are able to attend college without borrowing money, new mandates for workers to receive paid family and medical leave, an effort to limit the costs of child care and, to fund programs and reduce income inequality, increased taxes on the wealthy and some corporations. She promises to renegotiate trade deals she says have hurt workers.
Trump, in contrast, would cut income taxes across the board, particularly for the highest earners and for corporations, in an effort to spur rapid economic growth. He says he would deport 11 million immigrants who have entered the country illegally, and has threatened to levy tariffs against China, Mexico and other countries he says are cheating the United States on trade.
White Americans without college degrees have been particularly pessimistic about the economy and the pace of recovery from the Great Recession. In 2014, fewer than half of whites without college degrees, 46 percent, said the recovery had begun in their own experience. Among whites with college degrees, 66 percent said the recovery was under way.
Working class voters were the cornerstone of Trump’s support in this year’s primaries. Network exit polls found Trump garnered 48 percent support among voters without college degrees across primary contests, compared with 38 percent among those with college degrees.
Personal economic anxiety marked one of the most influential factors undergirding Trump’s support, according to analysis of Washington Post-ABC News polling. Republicans who said they were struggling to maintain their current standard of living were significantly more likely to support Trump when compared with those who were moving up the economic ladder. In addition to economic anxiety, Post-ABC polling found that the sense whites were losing out due to preferences for black in Hispanics drew voters to Trump’s camp.
More recent analysis from NBC News confirms this point. Combining several sources of data, the network found that Trump did best in counties where average pay has declined in the past several years and where fewer white adults are participating in the labor force.
Clinton acknowledged those trends in the interview. “I respect the legitimate concerns that so many Americans have, because of what has happened to them,” she said. “But I am offering a path forward that I think can actually produce results for them.”
Scott Clement and Max Ehrenfreund contributed.