Today New Yorkers decide who they think should become the Republican Party’s presidential candidate. According to polls the New York billionaire Donald Trump is most likely to win the majority of the Republican votes. But who are the New Yorkers that support Trump?
Alan Hedrick, 29, was shocked when he first entered the Trump Tower in New York to campaign for the Republican front-runner. As a Hispanic millennial living in New York City, Hedrick is – at least on paper – not a typical Donald Trump supporter. And neither were the approximately 50 volunteers that filled the billionaire’s headquarters to convince Republican voters to support Trump. According to Hedrick, half of the volunteers were women and minorities, and that surprised him.
“If you believe what the media says about Trump, you would not believe who was in that room,” he said. “The media has portrayed the Trump supporters as being uneducated, unprofessional kind of redneck – just biased people – and I don’t relate to that whatsoever.”
Hedrick is indeed far from the only Republican New Yorker who supports Trump. According to a Monmouth University poll released April 6, more than half of the likely Republican primary voters would vote for Trump in his home state. “If this result holds in every single congressional district, Trump will walk away with nearly all of the New York State delegates,” Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, stated in a press release.
I’m meeting Hedrick at his regular spot, The Grey Dog, in the expensive neighborhood of Chelsea in Manhattan, where he also works as a real estate agent. It is unlikely that the other guests at the café cast their ballots like Hedrick – he’s one of only seven registered Republican voters in the neighborhood.
“If you look at the politicians we have today they are not effective,” he said. “So that’s why I like Trump. He’s a businessman, he’s been very effective in business, and I feel he could use these skills in government.”
This is also the reason Dylan Perera, 22, who’s majoring in computer science at New York University, supports Trump’s candidacy. Perera is tired of the political establishment in Washington.
“It’s always just talk, talk, talk and nothing ever gets done,” he said. “Everyone tries to dance around to get re-elected. Donald Trump isn’t like that. He’s not a politician; he comes from a business background. He is not bought by any special-interest donors. He’s just telling it straight how it is.”
In the state of New York, and especially New York City, the majority of the voters support the Democrats. At the general election in 2012 Obama won with 62.6 percent of the popular vote.
While New Yorkers are known as left-wing liberals, Donald Trump supporters are seen as “angry white men” from the Southern states. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released last December, Trump supporters are typically white males without a college degree, who earn less than $50,000 (DKK 329,000) a year.
“They are upset that there hasn’t really been wage growth for the middle-class Americans since the Clinton administration,” Peter Beinart, political commentator at CNN, explained. “In addition to that anger you have a level of anxiety about cultural changes as represented by immigration, the Obama presidency more generally and by the idea that there is now a politically correct discourse that prevents people from speaking honestly about what they think is happening in the country.”
Alan Hedrick says he does not relate to the anger, but he is frustrated. “It’s a frustration that I still have $30,000 in student loan debt, and I’ve been out of school for eight years and I’m working to pay that off,” he said.
Though the American unemployment rate at 5.3 percent is lower than before the recession, job creation and unemployment are what worry Hedrick the most.
“Look, I’m 29, I have friends who graduated college with me, they went to law school and they are still serving at restaurants because they can’t find a job,” he said. “We have massive student debt and we can’t pay the loans because we are not getting jobs that help us pay the massive loan debt. I’m not saying that we should have free education, but I’m saying we should have a way to pay off that debt, and that’s by stimulating the U.S. economy.”
Both Alan Hedrick and Dylan Perera hail from immigrant backgrounds. One of Perera’s grandfathers is a Muslim, who immigrated from Iran; the other is originally from Sri Lanka. Hedrick’s mother immigrated from Panama to marry his father, who is an Orthodox Jew – another minority group in the U.S. Hedrick’s Panamanian mother is also voting for Trump. In Denmark this would be like an immigrant voting for the Danish People’s Party – an unlikely scenario.
However, people who call Trump a racist don’t understand him, Hedrick said.
“Trump wants to provide opportunities for minorities. He has nothing against minorities trying to make their lives better. I think you have to look past the rhetoric of that,” he said. “Trump wants to stop illegal immigration, which I think as a country with borders and laws that’s what you have to do. If it’s illegal you have to enforce the law. I don’t think he wants to ban every immigrant, and that hasn’t been his policy.”
Neither Perera nor Hedrick supports Trump’s suggestion to ban Muslims from entering the United States – a controversial statement Trump made after the Paris attacks in November last year.
“Nobody’s perfect, no politician is perfect, and you have to outweigh the good and the bad,” Hedrick said.
Perera emphasized that Trump makes these statements to have a better opportunity for political negotiation.
“I think he does that to aim high and negotiate on his terms. That’s what he’s been doing his entire life and he’s been really successful about that,” Perera said.
If Trump wins all of the 95 delegates in the New York primaries tonight he would have 839 of the 1,237 delegates that would consolidate his nomination for president at the national Republican convention this summer. But for Trump to succeed in winning the Republican nomination he needs to do better with voters like Perera and Hedrick, Beinart said.
“He does best with voters who are very angry, but he needs to be able to compete more effectively among voters who are less angry,” the political commentator said. “In the general election he has very daunting challenges. His unpopularity levels with women are extraordinarily high, and with African Americans and with Latinos, so he would really have to find a way to cut into that.”
The Republican Party decides which candidate will get the presidential nomination at the Republican convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 18 to 21.