“They’re frighteningly close,” said Mary Nugent, a doctoral candidate who teaches U.K. politics at Rutgers University. “The demographic breakdown is also similar in that overwhelmingly lower-educated and lower-income people voted for #Brexit. That’s true of Trump supporters as well. It’s an expression of disaffected, mostly white voters and an expression of the feeling of not being heard.”
In Britain, they made themselves heard in hard-hit cities like Sunderland, where a much larger than expected 61 percent of voters opted to leave the European Union. An ocean away, the same sentiments are palpable in places like Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, home to Pittsburgh and its shuttered steel mills, where Trump has rallied thousands by claiming he can bring back jobs lost to Mexico and return the city to its glory days.
“They look back on a past where they were an economically significant part of the economy,” Nugent said. “Pittsburgh has a lot of nostalgia for its former role in making steel. That’s similar to Sunderland and its shipbuilding community.”
High pro-Brexit turnout in other one-time industrial towns like Middlesbrough and Hull in the working-class enclaves of Northeast England and in Wales helped the Leave campaign beat out the Remain camp’s strongholds in London and Scotland. A Trump victory hinges on supercharging the U.S. white working class vote to create a similar coalition in the economically downscale Rust Belt and winning states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which haven’t voted Republican since the 1980s.
Both camps are fueled by older, working-class whites spurred by nationalism and nostalgia for a bygone era. Their economic prospects have diminished in an era of globalization, and they feel that immigration is damaging their pocketbooks and their cultural identity. And they think the elites aren’t listening.