Donald Trump and the curse of the white, educated Southerner

Supporters yell during a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in Kissimmee, Fla., on Thursday. Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS

Supporters yell during a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in Kissimmee, Fla., on Thursday. Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS

Last night, South Carolina joined Georgia as a member of a new and suddenly fashionable club: red states that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump needs to worry about.

Put the blame on well-educated white Southerners. You might call it Mitt Romney’s revenge.

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According to Public Policy Polling, Trump carries only a two-point lead over Democrat Hillary Clinton in South Carolina, 41 to 39 percent. Libertarian Gary Johnson bleeds off 5 percent of the vote. Green Party candidate Jill Stein gets another 2 percent.

The S.C. results track those found in last week’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution survey. From the PPP memo:

The closeness is a function of Democrats being a lot happier with their party’s candidate than Republicans are with theirs. Clinton is winning 84% of the Democratic vote, compared to Trump’s 77% of the Republican vote. Although neither candidate is well liked by voters in the state Trump’s favorability, at 38% positive and 56% negative, comes in slightly worse than Clinton’s at 38/55.

Whether Democrats end up winning South Carolina in the Presidential race this fall or not, the generational differences in the state portend well for the party in the decades ahead. Trump is only ahead because of a massive advantage among seniors in the state at 58/30. When you look at everyone in the electorate below the age of 65, Clinton leads Trump 41/36.

Both South Carolina and Georgia seem counter-intuitive, given their histories as robust centers of Republican power. Earlier this week, Nate Cohn of the New York Times ventured to explain the Southern phenomenon we’re seeing – and he makes a degree of sense.

Trump is aiming at key Rust Belt swing states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Iowa with messages aimed at bringing the last white blue-collar Democrats in those states over to his side. Hence the nationalist emphasis on the loss of manufacturing jobs, the tough talk on immigration, the racial dog whistles.

But that polarization has already occurred in the South, where race and party identification already overlap to an extraordinary degree. White, blue-collar voters were already on Trump’s side before the game began.

What’s happened is that Trump’s rhetoric has had a counter-effect in the South. It has begun to cost him dearly among white Southerners with more education. Women in particular.

Writes Cohn in the New York Times:

According to our estimates, Mr. Obama probably didn’t even win 15 percent of white voters without a degree in Georgia in 2012.

So where is Mr. Trump supposed to make gains among white working-class voters in Georgia? Is he really going to drive Mrs. Clinton down to something like 5 percent of white voters without a degree? That’s not credible….

In comparison, there are a lot of well-educated Romney voters in a state like Georgia; Mr. Romney won around 75 percent of white voters with a degree. So there are far more college-educated white voters for Mr. Trump to lose than there are white working-class Obama voters for him to flip.

In last week’s AJC poll, Clinton was beating Trump 47 to 33 percent among those with college degrees.

Some of that support definitely belongs to Republican ticket-splitters. Because in a one-on-one match-up in the U.S. Senate race, surveying the same voter pool, Republican incumbent Johnny Isakson was besting Democrat Jim Barksdale 50 to 40 percent among the college-degreed. (Libertarian Allen Buckley is the third candidate in that contest.)

Now, let’s go back to that PPP poll of South Carolina’s presidential prospects. What do the crosstabs show? Donald Trump is losing the college-degreed vote by 45 to 32 percent.

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A little cemetery humor for you, courtesy of the apocryphal funeral home advertisement: “I’ll be the last one to let you down.”

That might as well be the slogan for both rivals competing for the seat of state Rep. Rusty Kidd, the Legislature’s lone independent. The Milledgeville lawmaker’s decision to drop out of the race leaves two candidates undertaking a race for the seat.

Both Democrat Floyd Griffin Jr., a former state senator and ex-mayor of Milledgeville, and Republican Rick Williams, an ex-Baldwin County commissioner, are funeral home directors.

Who will bury whom? It’s been a Republican-leaning district in off years, and Democratic in presidential ones. Our gut says the contest is a dead heat.

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The Georgia Fraternal Order of Police didn’t react kindly to the news that Democrat Hillary Clinton’s stance on soliciting endorsements from police groups.

The Hill reported this week that the National Fraternal Order of Police felt snubbed when Clinton declined to ask the union for its support. That led to this Facebook post from the group’s Georgia chapter surmising that Clinton must see the union as a “hate group” like the Ku Klux Klan. We’ll let them explain:

An endorsement from large union like the National Fraternal Order of Police should be highly desirable for any political candidate, because it generally means that the candidate can count on a lot more votes. However, politicians don’t want endorsements from groups that could make them look bad by association, such as the KKK or ISIS. By saying that she doesn’t want the National Fraternal Order of Police to endorse her, Clinton is sending a strong message that she groups the FOP into the same category as hate groups.

Clinton’s staff must believe that an endorsement from police officers will actually cost her more votes than an endorsement would gain. This is scary, because if an endorsement from police would make her lose votes, then it stands to reason that Democratic politicians can expect to gain voters by attacking law enforcement. While politically motivated attacks on law enforcement have already become popular, Clinton’s stance indicates that things may get a whole lot worse.


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