The Economy Is Improving, But Trump Winning 2nd District Anyways

I recently returned home to Maine for a visit, and I thought I would share a couple of observations from the trip. There were two changes since I was last there a few months ago that surprised me.

The first is how well the economy appears to be doing. New business were open, old businesses had expanded, and help wanted signs were out. The downtown area of my hometown has an unfortunate history of very high turnover for small businesses. So it was a pleasant surprise to see not only that many of the recently opened retail stores are still there, but that two have actually expanded in the last few months. New restaurants in town continue to be busy as well, although some have yet stand the test of a full winter.

On top of the humming businesses, just about everyone I know from my hometown has a job, and many of them have jobs they actually like. Given that I mostly know other people in their 20s, that’s pretty remarkable. These observations are backed up by the fact that Oxford County’s unemployment rate for August was at 4.2%, down from a frightening 10.2% in August 2009, the second highest in the state at the time. Sunny forecasts from these numbers should be hedged by the ever-present labor participation rate problem in Maine, and I have written about the adverse effects of Maine’s aging population before. But there is real good news in the unemployment statistics, and I had a chance to see it first-hand.

The second thing that surprised me was how strong support is for Trump. I wasn’t sure if all the yard signs I was seeing were indicative of nothing more than an aggressive sign-placing campaign on the part of Republicans or an actual indication of lopsided support for the candidate. A Press Herald poll released towards the end of my stay confirmed that it was no trick of the eye—Trump really does have a commanding lead. FiveThirtyEight’s model puts Trump’s chances of winning at over 70%. All the poll data is a few weeks old at this point, and who knows what will happen in the remaining month of the race. But it’s clear Clinton has a lot of ground to gain if she wants to win the district.

On the face of it, there is an interesting dichotomy here, with large margins of voters expressing support for a candidate whose message is essentially “everything is horrible,” despite the fact that things seem to really be improving. It is not too surprising, however, that a district that stayed blue for a long time with the support of union Democrats can flip red when those workers flock to a Republican candidate pledging to blow up free trade, which they see as the cause of their personal ills. The economy might be improving, but it’s not the improvement they want to see. People support Trump for a variety of reasons of course, but I’m guessing the block of swing voters that can deliver him rural Maine are latching on to him at the moment for this reason. There is an economic identity politics here being played in the 2nd District that Trump has tapped into. It’s a topic I’ll likely come back to with a later post, since it will continue to play an important role in Maine’s politics whether Trump wins or loses.


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Phoenix McLaughlin

About Phoenix McLaughlin

Phoenix McLaughlin works at the National Endowment for Democracy helping to foster political development in Asia. Phoenix lives in Washington, D.C. now, but was born and raised in Norway, Maine. In between, he has studied and/or worked in Colorado, Nepal, India, France, Ethiopia, and Augusta. All opinions expressed on this blog are solely his own and do not represent his current or former employers.