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Could blue collar, white men put Donald Trump over the top in Michigan?

steve carmody
Michigan Radio
The RNC jumbo tron flashed this message after Donald Trump officially recieved enough votes to secure the Republican presidential nomination

Donald Trump’s strength among white, blue collar, male voters powered him to victory in the Republican primaries, including Michigan’s.

But can expand his hold on this key demographic group?

Wednesday was a sunny day in downtown Cleveland and the food trucks were doing a brisk business. Joseph Albrecht was among those waiting their turn. He works construction. He says he used to have his own business, until Obamacare came along.

Now he’s planning to vote for Donald Trump.

“He’s not perfect,” says Albrecht, “but I’ll take Trump over any of these other politicians right now because he can’t be any worse than any of them. He really can’t.”

Joseph Albrecht fits a very specific Trump voter demographic. He’s a blue collar, white man, who previously was not necessarily a Republican voter.

Trump’s ability to engage with this group propelled him to the Republican presidential nomination.

Donald Trump won Michigan’s Republican presidential primary in March with 36% of the vote.

But exit polls showed he did particularly well with men, getting votes from more than 40%  of them who voted in the Republican primary. And a lot of them were first time Republican voters. A New York Times exit poll showed more than half a never voted in a Republican primary before.

Trump’s appeal to blue-collar white men has the attention of longtime Republican leaders in Michigan.

Peter Secchia is such a pillar of Michigan’s Republican Party, his name is on their headquarters in Lansing. 

Secchia didn’t back Trump initially, but he believes Trump is bringing new voters to the GOP.

“When you watch 'Biker Dick,' and 'Truck driver Frank,' and you see all these 'Joe the Plumbers'…you know that Donald Trump is speaking to them,” Secchia said during a meeting of Michigan’s delegation to the Republican National Convention this week, “We’ve been trying to speak to them for the 50 years I’ve been in politics.”

But Republicans have an uphill climb in Michigan in presidential elections

Steve Mitchell is with Marketing Resource Group, a company that specializes in public relations and public opinion research.

“Michigan is on an average day about a 5% Democratic state,” says Mitchell, “The Democrat starts off with a 5% percent advantage….and can the Republican peel off two and half percent to make that even….and older white labor union members would be one of those areas.”

But there is a question as to how much deeper Donald Trump can mine for votes among older, blue collar, white men in Michigan.

Nicholas Valentino is a political scientist at the University of Michigan. He believes Trump has been able to do well with white men concerned about immigration and trade. But he thinks there’s a limit to the inroads Trump can make with traditionally Democratic voters.

“There aren’t enough….voters who are conservative on immigration, but who are Democrats on other issues,” says Valentino.

But a recent poll suggests Trump does have a path to victory in Michigan.

The poll by Marketing Resource Group found Hillary Clinton led Donald Trump by five percentage points in Michigan, with third party candidates trailing far behind. But the same poll found 35% are still undecided.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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