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Donald Trump was elected President because angry, white, working-class voters wanted more jobs, bigger paychecks, and a larger slice of government cheese. At least that’s been the conventional wisdom, claimed by coastal journalists and amplified by social commentators.
But a new survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic magazine seems to disprove that narrative. The largest motivation to pull the lever for Trump came not from pocketbook concerns, but cultural ones:
Controlling for other demographic variables, three factors stood out as strong independent predictors of how white working-class people would vote. The first was anxiety about cultural change. Sixty-eight percent of white working-class voters said the American way of life needs to be protected from foreign influence. And nearly half agreed with the statement, “things have changed so much that I often feel like a stranger in my own country.” Together, these variables were strong indictors of support for Trump: 79 percent of white working-class voters who had these anxieties chose Trump, while only 43 percent of white working-class voters who did not share one or both of these fears cast their vote the same way.
The second factor was immigration. 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.
Finally, 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. “The enduring narrative of the American dream is that if you study and get a college education and work hard, you can get ahead,” said Robert P. Jones, the CEO of PRRI. “The survey shows that many white working-class Americans, especially men, no longer see that path available to them. … It is this sense of economic fatalism, more than just economic hardship, that was the decisive factor in support for Trump among white working-class voters.”
The poll found another repudiation of conventional wisdom: Respondents who said their finances were “fair” or “poor” were twice as likely to vote Clinton than those in better financial shape.
In my admittedly anecdotal discussions with apolitical Trump voters (family, friends, neighbors) over the past few years, feeling like a “stranger in my own country” is a common theme. Rioters burn down cities and politicians coddle them. Illegal immigrants are deported only to be welcomed to sanctuary cities upon their return. The well-connected can mishandle classified information and the justice system proudly refuses to prosecute. Big businesses are lauded for admitting men to women’s bathrooms, while mom-and-pop stores are shut down for quietly holding more traditional views.
And if someone so much as questions any of the above, they are immediately labeled a bigot.
Do you agree with the study’s findings?