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White Working-Class Voters May Be Key To A Presidential Victory


Every presidential election seems to bring a group of voters who get a lot of attention because they are viewed as being decisive. This election, it's the white working class. Donald Trump is getting a lot of his support from these voters.

And in at least one important battleground state, white, working-class voters were key to Barack Obama's victory. NPR's Asma Khalid covers the intersection of demographics and politics and joins us now to explain.

Good morning.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And we are talking here about the state of Iowa. We know Barack Obama won Iowa in 2008 fairly convincingly. How important are these voters to winning that state?

KHALID: Renee, they're very important. There are a lot of white, working-class voters in Iowa. That's true today. And it was true eight years ago, as well. I talked to Dave Swenson about this. He's researched Iowa economics and demographics for the past 30 years.

DAVID SWENSON: The largest employer in Iowa, in terms of an industrial group, is manufacturing by a long shot. So we have a significant blue-collar presence.

KHALID: But, Renee, the thing is these blue-collar workers in Iowa seem to have voted far more Democratic than other states in the past. If you look at exit polls from 2008, you'll see that Barack Obama lost white voters without a college degree by 18 percentage points nationally.

But he actually won that group in Iowa by about 6 percent. And what's even stranger is that he did better with these non-college-educated, white voters than he did with white, college-educated voters in Iowa that year.

MONTAGNE: You're saying, then, that white, working-class voters in Iowa were an anomaly.

KHALID: Well, Renee, what I can say is that white, working-class voters in Iowa voted Democratic. And that was atypical. This year, blue-collar Iowans seem to be voting more like the country. And that is bad news for Democrats.

The website FiveThirtyEight has written about the 2014 Iowa Senate race and found that Democrats lost the non-college, white vote that year by double digits. That seemed to be a sign that white voters without a college degree were moving away from the Democratic Party in Iowa.

And, you know, this year, we've seen race and education as the major fault lines in this election. And so I think some of these divides that were already taking shape a couple of years ago are beginning to come to the forefront. I asked Dave Swensen about this, specifically, in Iowa.

SWENSON: Every single recession bounces us down just a little bit lower. We've only recovered about half of the jobs we lost before the recession. And so you very well may have well-distributed economic anxiety among a relatively large fraction of the state's workforce.

KHALID: And, clearly, Donald Trump has tapped into that.

MONTAGNE: And Asma, that seems to really bring into focus how the larger dynamics in this race could be changing the electoral map generally.

KHALID: That's true, Renee. Donald Trump speaks rather intensely about other industrial states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania. And he's been making a major play for a number of those industrial Rust-Belt states.

The thing is if you look at a state like Michigan or Pennsylvania, while they do have large white, working-class populations, the reason they are seeming to more stubbornly trend Democratic still is because they also have a large African-American population to offset the potential, you know, gains that Donald Trump may be making with blue-collar, white voters.

On the other hand, Ohio is a little bit different. It seems that it could potentially go for Donald Trump more easily than some of these other Rust-Belt states I mentioned. And, Renee, if we move out of the Rust Belt and back into Iowa, you'll see that there are a number of other factors aligning in Trump's favor beyond just education levels.

The population in this state is about 90 percent white. And it also has a relatively large rural population. So to sum up, Iowa and Ohio are two states that demographically seem to favor Donald Trump.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Asma Khalid covers the intersection of demographics and politics.

Thanks very much.

KHALID: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.