How could a Republican presidential candidate manage to lose badly on solidly Republican turf like Morris County?
After I raised that question the other day, I came across a piece arguing that this was a national phenomenon that can be explained by the Whole Foods effect.
Since the 2012 elections, David Wasserman of the Cook Political report has been making correlations between voting patterns and the location of outlets of the Whole Foods upscale supermarket chain.
The people who do research for such chains are looking for a demographic heavily dependent on household income. You need a lot of it to shop at Whole Foods.
It turns out that Trump lost 171 of the 202 counties in America that have Whole Foods stores. That would include Morris, which Trump somehow managed to lose by 13,000 votes in an election that his fellow Republicans won by an equal margin.
Closer to home – my home that is – we find that Ocean County shoppers have to somehow get by without overpriced produce and 12 brands of tofu.
Cross the mighty Manasquan River to Monmouth County, however, and you will find a Whole Foods market. The county is solidly Republican, but Trump barely squeaked past Biden, with an edge of just over 2 percent.
Then there’s Somerset County, where Wasserman grew up. When I got him on the phone, he recalled how thoroughly Republican the county was in his youth.
“The Democrats now own Somerset,” Wasserman said.
Somerset, which has a Whole Foods by the way, went for Biden by 40,000 votes.
Wasserman said that the presence of a Whole Foods tends to correlate with high levels of college education. What did Trump do to make all there college graduates so angry?
Wasserman blamed it on his temperament.
“Trump’s entire M.O. has been to give the middle finger to college-educated experts and elites to go off his own instincts,” he said. “People who have a high degree of faith in empirical processes see through a lot of the claims he makes.”
The pattern seen in these New Jersey counties was duplicated all over the country. In Pennsylvania, for example, Trump actually improved his performance among Philadelphia voters over his 2016 numbers. But he lost big in the four suburban counties that used to be Republican strongholds.
According to one of Trump’s earliest supporters in New Jersey, a key reason Trump lost in the affluent ‘burbs was his failure to communicate a positive economic message.
State Sen. Joe Pennacchio of Morris County said that failure traces back to Trump’s tax-reform package and its cap on deductions against the federal income tax for state and local taxes.
“You’re already paying a tax and now you gotta make more money because you gotta pay a tax on a tax?” he said.
Pennacchio said that change originated from red-state members of Congress who “wanted to stick it to New York, California and New Jersey.”
The president seemed to forget he was also sticking it to the residents of affluent suburbs all over the country.
That pattern held in other states as well, as the writers at the 538.com political site noted in a post on the differences between Biden’s improvement over Hillary Clinton’s 2016 results in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
“Biden was able to win these three states by improving on Clinton’s margins in predominantly suburban and exurban counties around big cities like Detroit, Milwaukee and Philadelphia, where more white voters with a college degree backed the Democratic presidential ticket – a trend that was true across the country,” they wrote.
There’s no doubt that Trump’s crude manner and his habit of tweeting cost him among affluent suburbanites. But with that tax hike, Trump told the residents of affluent suburbs that they couldn’t expect economic relief from him.
“He was new in the game and he allowed Congress to write that bill,” Pennacchio said. “It could have used a little more seasoning.”
It certainly could have. Last year when a Congressional subcommittee looked at restoring the deduction, opponents characterized it as a tax cut for the rich.
Perhaps. But I suspect their definition of “rich” would take in a whole lot of the people who shop at Whole Foods.
I have no idea who will be the nominee for the Republicans in 2024.
But I’d suggest he develop a taste for tofu.