Relative to other Republicans, Trump has underperformed with those voters since he began his first presidential campaign in 2015. And by flouting science and openly inflaming racial tensions, he is now directly centering the campaign debate on two of the principal dynamics that have alienated those voters from him. That shows signs of accelerating the shift of these voters — who had never backed a Democratic presidential nominee in polling before 2016 — away from the GOP to an unprecedented new level.
By contrast, although the widespread concern in Black and Hispanic communities both about George Floyd’s death and the disproportionate burden they have faced from the coronavirus outbreak could increase their turnout from 2016’s tepid level, so far most 2020 polls have not shown Biden improving on Hillary Clinton’s margin among them. Trump, meanwhile, maintains a consistent lead among White voters without college degrees, though almost all surveys show his margins with the women in that group narrowing substantially since 2016.
Reverting to 2016 themes
Trump has always tried to convince his primarily non-college and non-urban White base that he “alone” can protect them from the twin forces he portrays as threatening their interests: contemptuous elites who allegedly disdain their values and dangerous minorities and immigrants who purportedly threaten their jobs and their physical safety.
Under the enormous pressure of the coronavirus outbreak and the massive nationwide protests over racial inequity, Trump has reverted to those core themes.
Observers in both parties believe Trump sees his defiance of local officials and medical experts on the rallies as a way to reinforce his identity as an outsider who will break the rules to defend his voters’ interests. But on both sides, many believe that approach carries enormous risk, particularly with older and college-educated voters, both of whom have displayed elevated levels of concern about the pandemic.
For Trump to hold an event that did not require masks “is a bit tone deaf in this part of the state,” Charles Coughlin, a veteran Phoenix-based Republican consultant, told me. “It’s part of [his] anti-establishment shtick, which seems to be wearing very thin in a crisis.”
In the Navigator surveys, about two-thirds of Whites with at least four-year degrees have consistently expressed concern that Trump ignores the opinions of experts, with more than half saying that pattern very seriously concerns them, he said.
Trump holding the rallies despite the advice of public health officials is “just continued fodder for ignoring expert advice, which has always been a deep concern…