Donald Trump

Fifty-five percent of his supporters are white working-class.

By William A. Galston
Nov. 17, 2015 – 6:34 p.m. ET

The biggest surprise of the presidential election so far is the emergence and persistent strength of Donald Trump. Although Ben Carson is remarkable in many respects, he is the latest iteration of a familiar figure in Republican primary campaigns: the favored candidate of conservative evangelicals.

By contrast, Mr. Trump is the staunchest champion of the white working class that American politics has seen in decades.

Thanks to a recently released survey, a collaboration between the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the Brookings Institution, we can now identify with much greater precision the sources of Mr. Trump’s support and the sentiments of his supporters.

Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, 39% of the white working class backs Mr. Trump, twice his share of white college-educated voters. Fifty-five percent of his supporters are white working class, compared with 35% for the rest of the Republican field and only 32% for Mr. Carson.

Among Mr. Trump’s white working-class supporters, the demographic group most likely to back him is composed of men ages 50-64, with no more than a high-school education. Compared with other groups in the PRRI-Brookings survey, these men are the least likely to believe that immigrants strengthen the U.S. and the most likely to believe that illegal immigrants are taking jobs away from American citizens. More than other voters, they are disturbed by the rising prevalence of non-English speakers in the U.S. And many blame Chinese imports and corporate outsourcing for U.S. job losses.

The outlook of core Trump supporters also reflects an identity shaped by class and race. These voters are least likely to say that government is looking out for the interests of the middle class or of white men, and the most likely to affirm that there is discrimination against these groups. Fifty-three percent believe that police officers generally treat blacks and other minorities the same as whites.

Mr. Trump’s working-class supporters espouse classic populist sentiments. Seven in 10 say that everyday Americans, not the “experts,” best understand what the government should do. By a 2-to-1 margin, they believe that politics and elections are controlled by people with money and by big corporations. Forty-four percent say that too many people today are afraid to say what they really think; no wonder Mr. Trump’s castigation of political correctness has achieved such resonance.

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