While the Yale Law grad now works for an investment firm in San Francisco (which might as well be light-years away from his hometown of Middletown, Ohio), his upbringing in the Rust Belt has given him an interesting perspective when it comes to understanding the motivations of white working-class voters.
Vance stopped by The Huffington Post on Friday to discuss his new book, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, and explained how Trump has been able to so effectively win over predominantly white, rural communities with lower levels of education where hope has been lost.
While new research from Gallup shows that Trump supporters are not actually “experiencing anomalous levels of economic distress” when compared to non-supporters, Vance said they feel like they’ve been “neglected.”
“People back home feel like the Republican party hasn’t really been listening,” he said. “So their lives aren’t getting better. They’re seeing the opioid deaths happening. They’re seeing that jobs are harder to come by, and fundamentally Republicans are not actually addressing their concerns.”
Voters who have grown increasingly disillusioned with stereotypically “filtered” and “rehearsed” politicians also find something refreshing about Trump’s “off-the-cuff” antics, he said. And Trump seems to have zeroed in on the issues that resonate with those voters most.
“He’s actually putting some blame on other people for the economic problems ... [and] the social problems we’re talking about,” he said. “Trump really seems to recognize both are going on, and whether you think he’s identified the right villains ― I certainly don’t think he’s identified the right villains ― but he’s at least identifying something. He’s at least diagnosing the problem in a way that no Republican, and frankly very few Democrats, have tried to do for this group of people.”
While Vance conceded that white working-class voters could “benefit” from some Democratic economic policies versus those from their Republican counterparts, there’s a reason why so many in that voting bloc are hesitant to switch to the Democratic ticket.
“Even though they recognize that they need some help, they’re very proud in some ways and they’re not going to be as attracted to a political candidate or a political party that’s fundamentally offering them free money or handouts in some way or another,” he said.
And to their credit, those voters “haven’t seen things get better with either party,” Vance added. So by casting a vote for Trump, they’re not just taking a stance against establishment candidates like Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio. It’s actually a “reaction against the entire mainstream political process,” Vance said.
Hear more from J.D. Vance in the video above, and check out his full interview here.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.