Sheryl-Ann Pruitt has managed to get a few things right. Keeping up the premiums on her late ex-husband’s life insurance policy was one of them. The other was getting hired on at an auto assembly plant, located an hour or so outside of Atlanta.
That’s not her real name. She agreed to talk only if I changed it, saying that she feared for job if her black and Hispanic co-workers and her boss, who’s black and who she says she’s close to, were to read that she will be voting for Donald Trump because he “talks straight” about immigration, crime and the “crooks running Washington.”
When the Sunday news pundits talk about “working class Americans,” they’re talking about people like Sheryl-Ann. According to conventional wisdom, their collective anxieties about economic losses—including an eroding manufacturing base—are fueling Trump’s voting base.
“That’s created an ocean of angry and frustrated people — primarily blue-collar and primarily white — who are susceptible to the appeal of a nationalist leader promising to bring back what they feel has been taken away,” writes Zack Beauchamp for Vox.com.
This as the national poverty rate fell by the largest percentage in nearly 50 years last year and median household incomes, like those in Sheryl-Ann’s America, actually went up 3,4 percent. So, Beauchamp assesses, economic frustrations “plays some small part, but it doesn't tell most of the story.”
The real driver? Immigration, racial and religious intolerance.
Without question, over the last 50 years, Republicans have reaped political benefits by harnessing racial resentments and economic anxieties prevalent among working class whites. a 2012 Associated Press poll found that Republicans were more than twice as likely to exhibit explicit racial bias as Democrats—79 percent to 32 percent.
Fear contorts and disfigures, but the wreckage also provides an opportunity for political vultures. It is no coincidence that Trump’s bigoted escapades have drawn substantial support from voters who harbor explicit biases against non-whites.
Sheryl-Ann, bristles at that. “My mama and daddy taught us to treat them like they treat you.”
She worries, though, that non-whites will control the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. And, at least in Georgia, Sheryl-Ann might be right.
Black and Hispanic voters are a growing force, especially in Gwinnett and Cobb counties. Taken together, those counties along the northern crest of Atlanta have represented the largest concentrations of Republican voters statewide and have determined the outcome of every statewide election dating back to Democrat Zell Miller’s election as governor in 1991. But as Miller cooled his heels on tony West Paces Ferry Road for eight years, and another five in Washington as an appointed U.S. senator, the state was undergoing demographic changes.
“There has been some talk of Georgia becoming part of a demographic realignment in presidential politics,” says Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute. “However, Clinton is not quite making the needed inroads among young white voters to take the lead here.”
Obama won 98 percent of black voters and 23 percent of white voters in Georgia, according to 2008 exit polls. He ultimately lost by 5 points.
With 50 days left before November election, Trump is still winning here—by a mere 3 points—in a state where Republicans control the governor’s mansion, both legislative chambers, two U.S. Senate seats and ten of 14 congressional districts. Clinton’s strength lies principally with black voters (concentrated mostly in metro Atlanta and in big towns like Augusta, Albany and Columbus). However, Trump’s dampening support among white, suburban women and the growing number of naturalized and native born Hispanics may be another reason the race appears so close. After all, Sen. Johnny Isakson is besting his Democratic opponent by double digits.
Statewide, Trump has a commanding lead among rural white voters—especially those like Sheryl-Ann who don’t have a college degree. His campaign is banking on voters like her to carry Georgia, despite the slim margins. Undoubtedly, there is a contingent of political prognosticators and consultants who are looking at the evolving demographics and believe Clinton has a real chance.
“Ain’t no way in hell I’m voting for Hillary,” Sheryl-Ann says, flat-out. “I know she’s lying when she opens her mouth.”
Sheryl-Ann moves on to Benghazi, “secret e-mail servers,” Mexican migrant workers and welfare fraud before she can draw another breath. “I was raised to treat everybody the same,” she says, batting away any notion that she is prejudiced or prone to believing conspiracy theories.
But, Sheryl-Ann says, “They [lawmakers] are making it so they can just come in here and take out jobs. I’m paying taxes so their kids can go to our schools. Hillary won’t even talk about that.”
It doesn’t take long before Sheryl-Ann reminds you again that the “system is rigged” and she isn’t sure the nation’s first black president was actually born in America. “Something’s going on,” she says, reciting Trump’s near constant refrain.
“I want a president who’ll put us first.”
Sheryl-Ann doesn’t say so explicitly but, by “us,” she seems to mean white people and, like a growing number of Americans, she believes anti-white bias is a real problem and that it is increasing.
At 34, the auto worker admits she isn’t old enough to have cared when the first Clinton was elected to the White House. After all, she was just 19 when he was sworn in and politics was “the last thing” on her mind. Even so, she’s quick to tell you that the country doesn’t need another Clinton, and that eight years of “Obama’s liberal bullshit” were enough for her tastes.
By her own admission, despite eight years of that “bullshit,” Sheryl-Ann makes a better than decent living at the plant—tough she wholly credits former president George W. Bush and then-governor Sonny Perdue for it. Between that and a death benefit payout, she had enough to put a good down payment on a nice single-story brick front with enough bedrooms for her two sons, and occasional visits from her mother that became permanent after a hip-replacement surgery.
She drives a late-model car, bought with the company discount, but laments that she is “two paychecks away from losing everything” if she ever got laid off. Still, Sheryl-Ann says, she has watched her high school friends pack up and move away—only to come back when the job prospects weren’t any better elsewhere.
“It’s hard out there,” she says. “They all come back.”
After picking up extra shifts, fighting health insurance companies over care for her ailing mother, and shuffling her eight and ten-year-old boys to Little League games, there isn’t a lot of time left to watch the news. Besides, she’s too tired and her feet hurt most of the time. Instead, she uses social media to keep up with the election, following a bevy of decidedly conservative news sites on Twitter and reading Facebook posts about the 2016 campaign. She considers herself a part of Trump’s “firewall.”
The truth is Trump doesn’t have much of a campaign operation in the the Peach State and the Clinton camp began setting up shop months ago.
“He can’t win if he loses Georgia,” Sheryl-Ann says.