I have written that Donald Trump won the election through his performance in the Midwest. Before November 8, Trump’s team knew that winning Florida would not be enough: turning a blue state, particularly Michigan or Pennsylvania, was essential to his victory. He ended up winning both — along with Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin. In fact, at his current Electoral College vote count, he could have lost Florida and still won the election. The data give us a clearer idea of how this happened.
In the northeast and midwest, Trump won because he performed well in important counties that Mitt Romney, the previous Republican presidential nominee, had lost. Republicans turned out for Trump in the suburbs and rural towns of these states, creating long lines at many of the polls. Together with a poor Democratic turnout for Hillary Clinton and help from many Democratic cross-over voters in these areas, Trump achieved his upset victory.
Turnout for Trump was up in the areas he needed most. These include key parts of Pennsylvania like Northampton County, Luzerne County, and Erie County.
“It really didn’t matter if they were Democrats or Republicans, they said our health care is too high, Obamacare didn’t work,” Lee Snover, chair of the Northampton County Republican Party, told The Morning Call, a daily newspaper in Pennsylvania. These voters told Snover, “We want blue-collar jobs and manufacturing, we don’t want to be controlled by the media and elites.”
Many Democrats who had rejected Romney ended up voting for Trump. “This year, I had Democrats coming into Republican headquarters,” Snover said. “I had Democrats working the polls for us.”
Clinton, of course, won over the voters of Philadelphia — that’s usually enough for the Democratic Party to carry the state. But this year it lost many people in the Wyoming Valley, a symbol of the region’s industrial past and an area that overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
Luzerne County, for instance, was one of the Pennsylvania battlegrounds many election analysts were watching. In 2012, Obama beat Romney there by 5,000 votes. In an extraordinary flip, Trump won the county by 25,000. In blue-collar western Pennsylvania, Trump also won Erie County, which Romney had lost by 19,000 votes.
It’s worth noting that Catholics are the largest religious group in Pennsylvania and, as it happens, the majority religious group in Luzerne, Northampton, and Erie counties. These middle-class Catholics are essential to Democratic victories in the Keystone State. (Despite some pre-election jitters about Trump, a majority of Catholics nationwide ended up voting for him.)
The Catholics of Michigan also helped Trump, especially those in the state’s de-industrialised southeast. He won the state by flipping a dozen counties that had previously supported Obama. For instance, he won Macomb County, a working-class area known as the original home of the Reagan Democrats — socially conservative blue-collar workers who crossed party lines to vote for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984. Catholics are the majority religious group in Macomb County, which also previously supported Barack Obama.
In many other Michigan counties Trump won – St Clair, Bay, Monroe, Saginaw, Livingston, Jackson – Catholics are also the largest religious group.
It might be a bit much to say Catholics handed Trump the presidency. But it would be foolish to ignore how white working and middle class voters, many Catholics among them, shifted the American political landscape in this election.