New Data Suggests Why White Working-Class Americans Backed Trump (Hint: It Wasn’t the Economy)
Protecting ‘The American Way of Life’ from ‘Foreign Influence’ Outweighed Economic Anxiety
A new analysis of exit poll data by the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic may change the paradigm for how we understand the 2016 election. Most scrutiny into Donald Trump’s surprising electoral win concurs with the original breakdown: white, working-class Americans delivered him the presidency — particularly in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. But the early assumption that the economy was the driving force behind his historic margins within the demographic is challenged by a deeper dive into exit polling data. Furthermore, voters who admitted to having only a “fair” or “poor” financial standing “were nearly twice as likely to support (Hillary) Clinton compared to those who feel more economically secure.”
So what was the impetus for droves of white Americans without college degrees to back the former reality TV host? It looks as if the dog-whistles worked. According to the Atlantic’s Emma Green, the primary factor was purely cultural:
Nearly two-thirds of the white working-class say American culture has gotten worse since the 1950s. Sixty-eight percent say the U.S. is in danger of losing its identity, and 62 percent say America’s growing number of immigrants threaten the country’s culture. More than half say discrimination against whites has become just as problematic as discrimination against minorities. And nearly half agreed with the statement, “things have changed so much that I often feel like a stranger in my own country.”
Yes, the 1950s. The American culture was better off before The Beatles had the gall to perform on The Ed Sullivan Show. We were a stronger nation with segregated lunch counters. Perhaps we need a return to the unconstitutional sodomy laws found on the books in most states in the Eisenhower era? Or, at the very least, we could go back to the days when television couples slept in separate beds.
Immigration, Distrust of College were Contributing Factors
It was hardly just a longing for sock-hops or The Lawrence Welk Show that propelled Trump into the White House. A fear and-or-disdain for undocumented workers obviously played a part. On the bright side, however, the Americans who favored Trump’s controversial immigration measures were a much smaller percentage of the demographic than you may have been led to believe:
Contrary to popular narratives, only a small portion—just 27 percent—of white working-class voters said they favor a policy of identifying and deporting immigrants who are in the country illegally. Among the people who did share this belief, Trump was wildly popular: 87 percent of them supported the president in the 2016 election.
Though, that information makes one wonder who that 13 % are that favor a mass round-up of immigrants but did NOT vote for Trump.
Oddly enough, a move away from the long-standing American Dream of providing your children with more than you had looks to have evaporated among the white working-class. A majority now consider a college education a “gamble” as opposed to an opportunity:
54 percent of white working-class Americans said investing in college education is a risky gamble, including 61 percent of white working-class men. White working-class voters who held this belief were almost twice as likely as their peers to support Trump.
This information is obviously important from a historical perspective — there’s little doubt that historians, educators, and sociologists will one day be asking how the heck this happened. But it’s even more essential for the opposition party to understand. The Democrats must heed this data wisely when crafting their platform for future elections. They have won in the past on economic issues, and they won on them in 2016. What cost them control this time around wasn’t factories closing or college costs rising. It was racism, homophobia, and xenophobia.
And those are three ideologies that they should never try to pander to.
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Ed Hanratty is a Reverb Press contributor and freelance political journalist. A lifelong New Jerseyan, he prides himself on having just enough Garden State sarcasm and skepticism to keep his bleeding heart in check. Keep up with Ed’s work and random ramblings on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the links below…but not Snapchat — that’s where he’s decided to draw the social media line. (For Now)