There’s been a lot of discussion about why working-class voters, especially those outside of big cities and big city suburbs, moved toward Trump in 2016 and 2020. Having grown up in this turf, spent my life paying attention to these communities, and done a deep dive researching approaches to these towns and counties in the last two years, I can tell you all what is going on in three words: people are pissed.
Okay, that probably needs a little more explanation and clarity, but it sure sums up a lot of things. These working-class voters used to lean heavily Democratic. They knew -- and still know, by the way -- that Republicans tended to be the party of Big Business and the wealthy. But back in the day, they thought Democrats would fight for them. They suffered two generations of bad trade deals, plant closures and job outsourcing, vanishing raises and declining wages, gutted pensions and skyrocketing health care costs, a financial collapse that caused job losses and foreclosures (while the Wall Street bigwigs got to keep their bonuses), drug companies getting rich off the waves of people they got addicted to opioids -- all of that and more. It seemed nobody was fighting for the working people and families in these small and medium-sized communities.
And then Donald Trump showed up one day and flipped the bird at the powers that be in both parties. He talked about those bad trade deals, he railed about the elites, and he promised to fight for those forgotten people. And because nobody else in either party seemed to care about them, way too many of those folks embraced Trump. In him, they saw a force that would burn down the establishment elites; he was a tool to exact their vengeance.
But what our research discovered over the last couple of years was that this group, whom we are calling Factory Towns voters, is the most “swing-y” demographic in American politics. They think very poorly of the wealthy corporations who have shipped jobs overseas, avoided paying taxes, and made record profits by jacking up their prices. While they despise greedy corporations and their lavishly paid chief executives, they love labor unions and progressive populist political leaders like Sherrod Brown and Tammy Baldwin.
Politicians and progressive issue groups need to engage with the people in these Factory Towns. They need to talk specifics about pocketbook economic issues that will make a difference in people’s lives, and they need to go the extra mile to show they want to build community and rebuild these towns. These voters are gettable if politicians and progressives would only make the effort.
That’s why my organization, American Family Voices, is sponsoring a tour of Factory Towns in the heartland. We want to celebrate the working people of this country, the people who build this country and keep it going. From nurses to construction workers, from railroad workers to child care and elder care providers, from the folks who work in factories to the people who teach our kids, from the restaurant workers to the truck drivers, it is working people who keep this country running and who we want to celebrate. And they deserve to be celebrated, but it can’t just be lip service: they all deserve to be treated with dignity at work, to get paid a good wage for their labor, to have good health care and a chance at a decent retirement.
One of the most popular radio, TV, and podcast talk show hosts focusing on working-class economics, Rick Smith, will lead this tour. He will do his daily show from the road starting on September 30 and go all the way through early November. He is going to talk turkey about what is really going on in this country, the issues that matter to working families, and the choice facing us in this country: whether we want a country that gives people dignity at work and in retirement, or a country where wealthy corporations and the top 1% run everything and to hell with everyone else.
If you live in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin, we hope you will join us at one of the towns along the tour. Subscribe to our mailing list to see where we will be and when. We look forward to meeting you.