Voter stereotypes may not work with Clinton, Trump

Credit: Andrew Harnik

Credit: Andrew Harnik

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Beth Zipperer would seem to be an obvious Hillary Clinton supporter -- a woman who worked her way up in her field, a mother, a Democrat.

And yet.

"She's not genuine," Zipperer, a resident of Parrish, Fla., said of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

All over Manatee County, and for that matter Florida, 2016 so far is a year of stereotype-busting as voters consider what most see as an unpalatable choice between Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

That makes the November election difficult to handicap, even in this county, where Republicans have dominated presidential elections for decades.

This vintage-2016 unpredictability is actually somewhat predictable. The fastest growing political bloc in the county has no party affiliation. In November, 2012, the county had 40,205 voters with no affiliation. By March, that number jumped about 23 percent to 49,533. Democratic numbers slipped slightly while Republican registration grew about 4.2 percent.

Pick a subgroup, and age-old assumptions about their voting habits are now in question.

Former U.S. Rep. Dan Miller, a  Republican, isn't crazy about Trump. A fiscal conservative but social moderate, "I haven't gotten to the point where I can vote for Trump," he said. "I'm not sure where he's coming from."

Other Republican stereotypes don't fit, either. Ron Friese, a Bradenton executive, has voted for Republicans and Democrats for president. He says he's torn this time.

He doesn't trust Clinton. But he worries that "Trump's mouth will get us in a war." Clinton's involvement with a private email server while secretary of State concerns him. But so does the notion that Trump "has no self-control."

John Garneau, a Bradenton machinist, is part of what's supposed to be another Republican constituency -- the white blue-collar worker -- and therefore a solid Trump vote. Except he isn't.

"I don't think the country should be run like a business," Garneau said. "There are no ethics in business. It's about making money."

That doesn't mean he's gravitating to Clinton. "For some reason," he said, "I don't like her."

Neither do a lot of people who polls and history say would firmly support her historic candidacy. Polls say she does well among women, particularly women over 35, as well as blacks.

What those numbers don't reflect is the hesitation. They don't mirror the reservations of Johnathan Cray, a Manatee Technical College student who is black.

"Is she what we really need?" he asked.

Cray fretted over "too many tactics, a backhanded agenda."

He's no big fan of Trump, either, though he agreed with some of his points. "We need somebody who can handle the country's budget with a business background," Cray said.

Trouble is, Trump is "high risk," Cray said. "We don't know what's going to come out of his mouth:"

What about Trump's insults of minorities? "I'm not looking for somebody to be sensitive to my case," Cray said. He'll keep studying candidates' agendas before making up his mind.

So will Cassandra Holbrook, a deli counter worker who is studying at Manatee Technical College to become a nail technician.

Having the first female president doesn't motivate this undecided voter. Clinton is a "career politician. Who knows what she's done behind the scenes?" Holbrook asked.

Trump bothers her, too. She finds his idea of building a wall to keep immigrants from reaching the United States illegally from Mexico unrealistic. She dislikes the billionaire mogul's sense of self-importance, and is concerned that he's not sensitive to ordinary people.

Nor is he statesmanlike, Holbrook said. Shouldn't that give an edge to Clinton, who spent four years as the nation's top diplomat and eight as a U.S. senator? "That's the only advantage of being a career politician," she said.

Maybe most important, there's this: Holbrook and Zipperer say Clinton didn't work herself up as they have.

Zipperer started at a department store when she graduated high school, working as a part-time cashier, then gradually being promoted training coordinator. She retired at age 45 and now, two years later, is studying for a career in medical administrative technologies.

"I just don't respect Hillary's beginnings," Zipperer said. Clinton grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in suburban Chicago, graduating Wellesley College and Yale Law School before marrying Bill Clinton in 1975.

Still, Zipperer said, today's Hillary Clinton is not someone she can identify with, no matter what the polls and the resume says. So forget the stereotype of how someone such as Zipperer should vote.

"She's not the right first woman president," Zipperer said.