Donald Trump’s victory was built on unique coalition of white voters

A sign in support of Donald Trump's presidential victory along the main street in East Palestine, Ohio.

Donald Trump’s America flowered through the old union strongholds of the Midwest, along rivers and rail lines that once moved coal from southern Ohio and the hollows of West Virginia to the smelters of Pennsylvania.

It flowed south along the Mississippi River, through the rural Iowa counties that gave Barack Obama more votes than any Democrat in decades, and to the Northeast, through a corner of Connecticut and deep into Maine.

And it extended through the suburbs of Cleveland and Minneapolis, of Manchester, New Hampshire, and the sprawl north of Tampa, Florida, where middle-class white voters chose Trump over Hillary Clinton.


One of the biggest upsets in American political history was built on a coalition of white voters unlike that of any other previous Republican candidate, according to election results and interviews with voters and demographic experts.

Trump’s coalition comprised not just staunchly conservative Republicans in the South and West. They were joined by millions of voters in the onetime heartlands of 20th-century liberal populism — the Upper and Lower Midwest — where white Americans without a college degree voted decisively to reject the more diverse, educated and cosmopolitan Democratic Party of the 21st century, making Republicans the country’s dominant political party at every level of government.

Trump spoke to their aspirations and fears more directly than any Republican candidate in decades, attacking illegal immigrants and Muslims and promising early Wednesday morning to return “the forgotten men and women of our country” to the symbolic and political forefront of American life. He electrified the country’s white majority and mustered its full strength against long-term demographic decay.

“A lot of stuff he’s talking about is just God-given common sense, which I think both parties have lost,” said Tom Kirkpatrick, 51, a Trump supporter who used to work in an industrial laundry plant and is now on disability. He stood near the Florida State Capitol on Tuesday, holding an American flag. “Let’s put him in. And if he doesn’t do what he says, I’ll help you vote him out.”


But Trump also won over millions of voters who had once flocked to Obama’s promise of hope and change, and who on Tuesday saw in Trump their best chance to dampen the most painful blows of globalization and trade, to fight special interests, and to be heard and protected. Twelve percent of Trump’s supporters approved of Obama, according to the exit polls.

Clinton won by a greater margin than Obama among affluent whites, particularly those living in the Democratic Party’s prosperous coastal strongholds: Washington and Boston, Seattle and New York. In Manhattan, where Trump lives and works — and where his fellow citizens mocked and jeered him as he voted on Tuesday — Clinton won by a record margin of 87 percent to Trump’s 10 percent. Around the country, she won a majority of voters overall, harvesting the country’s growing and densely packed big cities and a plurality of the suburbs.

But Trump won low-income white voters to the Republican ticket, reversing a partisan divide along class lines that is as old as the Democratic and Republican parties — a replay of the Brexit vote in June, when the old bastions of England’s Labor-left voted decisively to leave the European Union. His breakthrough among white working-class voters in the North not only erased the Democratic advantage but reversed it, giving him a victory in the Electoral College while losing the national popular vote.

Most strikingly, Trump won his biggest margins among middle-income white voters, according to exit polls, a revolt not only of the white working class but of the country’s vast white middle class. He did better than past Republicans in the sprawling suburbs along Florida’s central coasts, countering and reversing Clinton’s gains among Hispanic voters. He held down Clinton’s margins in the Philadelphia suburbs, defying expectations that Clinton would outperform Obama by a wide margin.


Magnified by the constitutional design of the Electoral College, and aided by Republican-led efforts to dampen black and Latino voting in states like North Carolina, Trump’s America proved the larger on Election Day.

It smashed through the Democrats’ supposed electoral “blue wall” — the 18 states carried by Democrats in every election since 1992, such as Michigan and Pennsylvania, plus the diverse and well-educated parts of the country that Obama attracted in his two races, like New Mexico, Nevada, Virginia and Colorado.

Starting Wednesday, you could walk from the Vermont border through Appalachian coal country to the outskirts of St. Louis without crossing a county Trump did not win decisively. You could head south through the rural and suburban Georgia all the way to South Florida, or northwest through the Upper Midwest, or make a beeline for the West Coast, skirting only the rising Democratic communities of Colorado and the booming multicultural sprawl of Las Vegas before finally reaching Clinton’s part of the country.

“It’s not that he was the most polished of politicians,” said Justin Channell, 36, of Brewer, Maine, who works at a health insurance company. “I liked the message of the anti-establishment, that corruption in D.C. is so prevalent.”

Clinton won the America of big, racially diverse cities and centers of the new economy, from Silicon Valley to the Silicon Slopes of Utah, where many traditional Republican voters rejected Trump.

But lining up for Trump was a parallel urban America of smaller cities — places like Scranton, Pennsylvania; Youngstown, Ohio; and Dubuque, Iowa — that boomed during the industrial era, and are still connected by the arteries of the old U.S. economy.

She had hoped for a surge of voting by Latinos, immigrants and African-Americans, a manifestation of the rising American electorate long predicted by liberal strategists and feared by the Republican elite in Washington. But exit polls suggest that Trump — despite his attacks on immigrants, Muslims and Mexicans, and his clumsy invocation of black neighborhoods mired in chaos and decay — did not fare worse among the African-American and Latino voters who showed up to the polls than Mitt Romney did four years ago.

In Miami-Dade County, where Trump had more room to lose ground among Hispanic voters than anywhere else in the country, Clinton inched up to only 64 percent from Obama’s 62 percent of the Hispanic vote. Turnout dropped considerably in black communities across the country, from the rural South to Cleveland, Milwaukee and Detroit.

By Wednesday, the notion of a Democratic electoral map advantage bolstered by rising Hispanic power seemed distant. Even if Clinton had won Florida, Trump would have powered to victory through the new Republican heartland in the Midwest, in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, where Hispanic voters represent just a fraction of the electorate.

Nor was the growing Hispanic vote — and Clinton’s strength among well-educated voters — enough to pull her especially close in either Arizona or Texas, the only two heavily Hispanic states that could have plausibly joined Florida to put her over the top.

Even where Democratic-leaning Hispanics are growing as a force, Trump’s supporters were waiting on Tuesday.

Anthony Brdar, 42, stood in front of his West Miami polling station, holding a handmade “Vote Trump” sign and waved a T-shirt of Obama’s face made to look like the Joker. It called him a tyrant. An out-of-work lawyer who lives in a heavily Hispanic neighborhood in Miami, Brdar said he never felt so compelled to vote.

“I feel our country is on the verge of becoming a Third World country,” he said. “Our children are not going to have a future. We are not going to have a future.”


Alan Blinder, Jess Bidgood and Frances Robles contributed reporting.


Get the latest breaking news sent directly to your phone. Download our free app.