In 2012, 21 percent of Wisconsin voters told exit pollsters that they or a family member belonged to a union. They broke for Barack Obama by 33 percentage points.
This year, just as many voters said they were in union households — and Clinton won them by just 10 points. The numbers and the swoon were similar in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Early on, Clinton’s campaign had waved off the idea of a backlash. After her victory in Ohio’s primary, campaign pollster Joel Benenson, an Obama veteran, wrote confidently that white working-class voters had paid attention to her real trade record. “Democrats in states hit hard by the loss of manufacturing jobs are looking for more than anger and accusations, and stopping abuse by foreign countries,” he wrote. “They’re looking for real plans and a broad economic agenda.”
But to the bafflement of Democrats here, the late Clinton push into the state — a series of ads that began in late October — did not mirror the economic messaging of the local labor unions. One played back Trump’s worst remarks about women; another, his mocking of a reporter with a physical disability; the last, a warning from a nuclear technician who worried that a reckless President Trump would start a war.
In 2012, when Democrats fought for Wisconsin all cycle, there had been clear economic messaging. One Obama ad dramatized Mitt Romney’s plan to “give millionaires another tax break” with a photo of him walking past Donald Trump’s plane.