Campaign signs, supporting Donald Trump and Mike Pence, are displayed on November 8, 2016 in Salem, Ohio. This year, roughly 200 million Americans have registered to vote in this years general election. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
Photo: Ty Wright
Photo: Ty Wright

Will Republican shift in Midwest hold?

On Election Day the nation watched as Republican Donald Trump won most of the the Midwestern Rust Belt states that twice helped propel Democrat Barack Obama to the presidency.

But political scientists say that neither party can take it for granted that their future candidates will win those states.

“The thing you have to tell yourself as a political scientist is one election doesn’t make a trend,” said Mark Caleb Smith, director of Cedarville University’s Center for Political Studies.

Trump won Ohio by 8.5 percentage points and also won Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin.

Among the other Midwestern states, Democrat Hillary Clinton won Illinois and Minnesota.

While Clinton narrowly won the popular vote nationally, with 63.6 million votes to Trump’s 63.4 million, he won more electoral votes, giving him the presidency, according to Associated Press tallies.

“Mr. Trump’s America First message resonated strongly in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and across the country where workers have watched local manufacturing jobs flee overseas,” said Seth Unger, Trump’s Ohio campaign spokesman “People are tired of Obamacare and the status quo in Washington, and Mr. Trump finally offered a vision for removing the term ‘rust belt’ from our vocabulary and a plan for getting people back to work.”

The Clinton campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

But Clinton supporter and former Dayton mayor and Ohio Lt. Gov. Paul Leonard said she and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, were very effectively painted as “elites” by the Trump campaign.

“How a guy like Trump, who’s never fought for the working class in anything could convince people that he is their savior is beyond me,” said Leonard, a political science adjunct professor at Wright State University. “He’s a great marketer.”

Tim Burga, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO, said the union is still analyzing results but “clearly this election was about an electorate that still had great anxiety about the economy, jobs and wages.”

“I think a lot of disaffected blue collar workers in particular had great concern about the global economy and unfair trade in particular,” Burga said. “Hillary Clinton actually put out specific plans that were very good. And Donald Trump was out there making these over-the-top statements that had no policy connected to them but sounded pretty good. And workers were making an emotional connection to that, I believe.”

History as a guide

Since 1960 no one party has a complete claim on that core block of eight Midwestern states, which includes Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Ohio picked a Republican in 9 of those 15 elections.

In 1960 Democrat U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy and Republican Vice President Richard Nixon split the Midwestern states. But in 1964 Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson took them all in his race against Republican challenger U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater. Nixon won all but three in 1968 against Vice President Hubert Humphrey and then took them all in 1972 as an incumbent facing Democratic U.S. Sen. George McGovern. In 1976 Democrat Jimmy Carter and Republican President Gerald Ford split up the Midwest in Carter’s successful bid.

In 1980 Republican Ronald Reagan took all but one - Minnesota - in unseating Carter, and political demographers noted the nationwide allegiance shift among voters who became known as to “Reagan Democrats.”

Ronald Reagan won all of the Midwest in his re-election bid in 1984, except for Minnesota.
Photo: Getty Images

Republican dominance of the Midwest continued with Vice President George H.W. Bush’s 1988 win over Democratic Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.

Democrats took the upper hand with Democratic Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton’s 1992 victory and his 1996 re-election as president. Indiana was the only Midwestern state to pick the Republican in those years.

In 2000 Democratic Vice President Al Gore - another winner of the popular vote who lost the electoral vote - won all but Ohio and Indiana against Republican Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

U.S. Sen. John Kerry, a Democrat, and Bush split the Midwest in 2004.

Obama won all the Midwestern states in 2008 against Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain and all but Indiana against Republican Mitt Romney in 2012.

In the Midwest - hit hard by economic downturns, plant closures and other economic ills - Trump’s message clearly resonated with working class people this year. Exit polls done by Edison Research for national media outlets show Trump won 7 out of 10 whites without college degrees, according to the Associated Press.

“I think it boiled down to the same issue. Mrs. Clinton was unable to model Barack Obama’s turnout model,” Smith said.

Those interviewed said there is no guarantee those Midwestern states and all the working class voters who made up a core of Trump’s base will stay Republican in the next presidential election because there are too many factors in each election that are specific to the candidate, the economy and the political scene in each election.

Much will depend on the ability of Trump and the Republican Congressional majority to produce results on his promises that he will bring good paying jobs back from overseas, revive the coal industry and bring prosperity to working class people who have felt left out of the nation’s economic recovery.

President Lyndon Johnson, seen with first lady Lady Bird Johnson, swept the Midwestern states in the election of 1964.
Photo: by Robert Knudsen

Trump came into the presidential race as a trade populist, “the outsider that all other outsiders pale against,” said Daniel Birdsong, political science lecturer at the University of Dayton.

“He was able to tap into that and he was able to lay blame,” said Birdsong. “His arguments were never complex.”

Josh Goldstein, deputy national media director for the AFL-CIO said Trump “used our rhetoric on trade and keeping jobs in America” and “forged a personal connection with working people by acknowledging their resentment about the rules being written to marginalize them.”

While Clinton also spoke out against unfair trade agreements, she faced criticism both from Trump and her primary opponent, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, for positive remarks she’d in the past about free trade.

There is no guarantee that scuttling or altering existing trade agreements will do anything to bring good paying manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.. Those changes could also kill more jobs by hurting American companies that export their products and hurt consumers by raising prices on imported goods hit by new trade barriers.

Smith said Trump’s success with the anti-free trade stance is a direct contradiction of long standing Republican and Democratic support of those kinds of deals, which supporters argue have created jobs in the U.S. for companies that want to export their products. So while Trump gained favor with voters for his stance, he may face a tough road in getting a Republican Congress to go along with erecting trade barriers.

“If people see a political advantage in it they may dabble,” Smith said. “But you have to keep in mind there is a whole host of Republican free trade interest groups out there that are going to fight it tooth and nail.”

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