What on earth is going on with White America?

After Donald Trump shattered the “blue wall” states in 2016, reporters spent years venturing into rural and small-town Rust Belt hinterlands to examine the Real American White Voter’s seemingly unshakable attachment to Trump. His divination of their true values and aspirations has long since been treated as a quasi-mystical phenomenon.

So it’s a remarkable turnabout that President Trump is now well behind in his race for reelection in large part because he’s losing ground among Whites of all kinds, a particularly pronounced trend in that very same region.

All this is revealed in new Post-ABC News polls showing Joe Biden leading in two “blue wall” states — and in a new analysis by the Upshot showing Trump falling well behind his 2016 margins among White voters nationally.

Biden is leading Trump by 57 percent to 40 percent in Wisconsin and by 51 percent to 44 percent in Michigan, the Post polls find. That 17-point spread in Wisconsin seems way too high, but polling averages show Biden ahead there by nine points, a sizable lead, and ahead in Michigan by eight points.

And the new Post data among Whites is broadly in line with the big story told by the new Upshot analysis. It’s this: The Trumpian appeals that were supposed to work on Whites are failing, whether it’s his fanning of “populist” rage against social distancing or his incitement of racial conflict.

Biden is cutting into Trump’s base

In Wisconsin and Michigan, Biden enjoys double-digit leads among college-educated Whites — but he also has cut deeply into Trump’s traditional advantage among non-college-educated Whites, particularly women.

Notably, in Wisconsin — where Trump’s 2016 victory took on near-mythic status as a reaction to Hillary Clinton’s supposed haughty neglect of the state — Trump’s slide among White voters appears to be directly tied to the coronavirus surge there. Biden is trusted over Trump to handle the coronavirus by sizable margins among both college-educated and non-college-educated Whites.

Meanwhile, in Michigan, White voters blame Trump more than Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) by a sizable margin for their feud over her public health restrictions. This is particularly lopsided among college-educated Whites, but more non-college Whites also blame Trump.

All that is telling. When Trump first urged rebellions against restrictions — “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” — some suggested this might have “populist” appeal to working-class Whites chafing to get back on the job, a yearning that pampered “laptop class” elites couldn’t fathom. This, too, supposedly showed Trump’s quasi-preternatural bond with those voters.

Now it turns out the really pernicious neglect of the region is coming from Trump, on the public health crisis ravaging it. He thought he could exploit that crisis to deepen his populist appeal, at times even suggesting the virus was mainly a problem for diseased blue cosmopolitan America.

Yet Trump is now finding that dangerously large numbers of Midwestern White voters also mysteriously think public officials should act aggressively to constrain a highly contagious pandemic. In Wisconsin and Michigan, majorities of Whites — including many non-college Whites — favor restrictions.

As Will Wilkinson explains, there’s a genuine ideology underlying Trump’s approach, one that embodies a quasi-religious faith in the zeal of individuals to maximize commercial activity at all costs, including the malicious undermining of cooperative action for the benefit of all. It’s a motivation that just isn’t shared by the broader public.

Trump’s racial appeals are failing

Meanwhile, the new Upshot analysis finds that in an average of high-quality national polls since the GOP convention, Trump’s lead among White voters has dwindled down to a meager five points, far below his 2016 victory among them.

The flip side of this is Trump’s gains among nonwhites, a genuine phenomenon. But Biden’s lead among Whites is more than offsetting that, partly because it spans educational lines.

Biden’s lead among college-educated Whites in those polls has ballooned up to 21 points, the analysis finds, and Trump’s lead among non-college Whites has plummeted by eight points relative to his 2016 margins among them:

Mr. Biden’s gains among white voters are broad, spanning not only the groups expected to shift toward him — like white suburban women — but also the white working-class voters across the Northern battleground states who represented the president’s decisive strength four years ago.

In the northern battlegrounds, the analysis finds, Trump has meaningfully lost support even among working-class White voters who previously voted for him.

Just as Trump hoped to rally populist support against social distancing, he also tried to win back White voters with his race-war-mongering. But the Upshot analysis shows that also failed:

Mr. Trump tried to win over white voters with a conservative pitch on race and policing. Instead, Mr. Biden steadily gained among white voters in the spring and particularly in June, after the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police. National surveys showed that white voters overwhelmingly disapproved of the president’s handling of the protests in the aftermath of Mr. Floyd’s death, according to Times/Siena polling.

Even after Trump went all in on this ugly messaging over the summer, the analysis notes, Biden remained favored to handle “law and order,” including in states where violence erupted, such as Wisconsin and Minnesota.

All this bolsters the possibility that Trump’s overt racism and instigation of racial and civil conflict may be driving a backlash in White America on racial justice issues. This raises the possibility of a so-called “Third Reconstruction” around these issues, fueled by what Adam Serwer calls a new “anti-racist majority”:

There has never been an anti-racist majority in American history; there may be one today in the racially and socioeconomically diverse coalition of voters radicalized by the abrupt transition from the hope of the Obama era to the cruelty of the Trump age.

In a few days, we’ll learn how broad and deep these shifts really are. And if Trump loses, some serious excavation will go into the role that the revolt of the Whites played in the whole story.

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