Trump’s Odd Allies: Union Members

Working-class anxiety and rage – often disguised in the drama that is American electoral politics – have assumed a central role in the current presidential race.  It is this distress that has in large part buoyed the Donald, harlequin huckster of the GOP, who upon reviewing the Nevada Caucus results, declared, “I love the poorly educated!”

And in a sign that working-class angst may have emerged from some of its old hiding places, evangelicals have largely abandoned candidates like Ted Cruz, who have built their careers railing against abortion and gay rights, in favor the unabashed playboy exemplar of “New York values.” It is Trump’s energetic anti-free trade, anti-immigrant tirades that so poignantly enact white working-class stress and has brought him to the lead. 

So no surprise then that union members voting in the Republican primaries vote for Trump at significantly higher rates than other GOP voters. This, after roughly two decades of energetic, expensive and, until now, fairly successful efforts on behalf of the AFL-CIO to educate union voters and their families. On one hand, it makes perfect sense; after years of making it clear that corporate friendly free trade deals were harming workers, why wouldn’t Republican union members square the circle by going for Trump?

Boston.com reports that:

From nonunion to union households, Trump receives a double-digit bump—both in first-choice support and favorability.

And while union members are a relatively small percentage of the overall population (less than 17 percent in the Suffolk poll), Trump’s disproportional popularity within that group explains his greater populist appeal.

“There is deep economic anxiety among our members and the people we’re trying to organize that I believe Donald Trump’s message is tapping into,” Mary Kay Henry, president of the politically liberal Service Employees International Union, recently told The New York Times .

It’s perhaps no coincidence that Trump is bringing his protectionist trade policy and alarmist immigration rhetoric to places like Worcester and Lowell—former hubs of manufacturing and industry where now median household and family incomes are below state average.

This forms the backdrop to our Highlights Newsletter, with articles from New Labor Forum’s at-Large Editor Steve Fraser and American Prospect’s Harold Meyerson about the Trump phenomenon and the working class. Miss it? Subscribe to our (free, low traffic) Highlights Newsletter here.

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