If Trump wins his party's nomination, white, working-class voters could help him in key general election states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa.Donald Trump is helping increase Republican turnout virtually everywhere he competes, including in traditional battleground states he’d need to win to become president.
The real estate mogul routinely brags about booming participation in primaries and caucuses as evidence he's bringing new voters to the party. His opponents dismiss that explanation, saying the big field of candidates and resulting media attention have been the main propellants.
While no single cause can completely explain the trend, the result is inarguable. A Bloomberg Politics analysis of county-level data shows voter participation has more than doubled in many areas—including in portions of swing states Ohio, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada—compared with similarly timed, competitive contests in 2012.
"The question for Trump is, will the additional voters he brings into the party—mostly white men and those with less than a college degree—offset the almost certain ground he will lose among millennials, Hispanics and, likely, independent-women," said John Della Volpe, polling director at the Harvard Institute of Politics.
If Trump wins the Republican nomination, white, working-class voters could give him a boost in some crucial general election states. Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa, have higher proportions of those voters than more demographically diverse battleground states in the southern and western U.S.
"Will the new and lapsed Trump voter stay motivated until November, even if he softens some rhetoric'' for broader appeal? Della Volpe asked. "I don't know, but these are the likely questions that his campaign is struggling with now."
The billionaire’s ability to expand voter participation will be tested again today as he competes in Arizona and Utah, two states that both have voted Republican in 11 of the last 12 presidential elections.
Ohio’s Mahoning County, which includes Youngstown and other areas still wounded by steel plant closures in the 1970s and early 1980s, is one of the more dramatic examples of the primary turnout boost in a battleground state.
“We were stunned on election night looking at those numbers,” said Mark Munroe, the county’s Republican Party chairman. “The Trump factor was the primary driver.”
There were 34,503 ballots cast there in last week’s Republican primary, up 125 percent from four years earlier when Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul were competing for the nomination. Trump won the county, trouncing Ohio Governor John Kasich, 50.6 percent to 37.4 percent.
Munroe, who supports Kasich, said Democrats and independents “crossing over to vote for Trump” accounted for the bulk of the increased activity. He bases that on the number of phone calls he received from non-Republicans before the primary asking him how they could vote Republican, with some wanting to support Trump and others wanting to block him.
The night before the Ohio primary, Trump appeared near Youngstown, where he blasted Kasich for supporting the North America Free Trade Agreement when he was a member of Congress. Many blame the accord, which took effect in 1994, for the area’s lost manufacturing jobs.