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Culture, Not Money, Drove White Working Class to Trump
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?Published in Culture, Politics
Youtube is demonetizing everything right of center. The Young Turks can be a foul mouthed klan like freak show, but the cuddliest of all possible conservatives Dennis Prager can’t get ads. If Prager isn’t ad friendly, than nobody on the right is.
If all the nations institutions are being weaponized, there is nothing left except solidarity and tribalism within a democracy, then the eventually national dissolution.
Can’t speak for anyone other than myself – – but even though I didn’t vote for Trump, I share that sense of cultural drift.
If you think that a country is simply a place, and that all countries are basically the same, then you won’t grasp why people feel this way. For someone like me, I want the culture to work in a particular way … the American Way. That starts with limited government, but it’s not just that government does little. It’s that individuals and non-political organizations more than take up the slack. I want robust religious institutions. I want robust economic competition, but that has to go hand in hand with an education system that produces competitive workers. I want cultural institutions to allow artists to express their views, but not to demand that I must follow those views.
Progressives lazily chalk up any resistance to immigration as a sign of bigotry. That’s just lazy. I want plenty of people to come to our country, but not to change that American Way or to dilute it to the point of meaninglessness.
Lazy critics argue that white working class people are just bigoted, and resent the idea that people of color, or different sexes, or (God knows what else) are “taking America away from them.” And if you think America is just a place, that would be petty and pitiful. But if, like me, you think that the American Way is a proven, tested, and highly successful way to run a country, then you’re damned right I don’t want the new people to throw that away. I don’t want us to become Europe. I don’t want us to become Syria.
The way progressives describe “white resentment” simply shows that they don’t understand why we want to hold on to the cultural values that made us into the place where everyone else wants to come.
To misquote you, @exjon, the Left won the culture war and now they are just shooting the wounded. At least they thought this a good idea. The problem was, they thought American’s ideas of common decency were the same as an embrace of their principles.
Case in point: My totally existing detective friend has long been on the conservative side of politics, though has been fine with gay marriage. Why? He works with them in the police force daily and doesn’t see why they shouldn’t have the same privileges and opportunities as he does. It appealed to his sense of goodness and decency.
Except the Left turned and decided to punish anyone who didn’t think exactly like them, to the extent that my friend regrets supporting this. Again, his sense of common decency says it’s wrong to punish people just because they won’t give hearty approval of an activity. He firmly believes in the live and let live attitude that the Left campaign with in favor of SSM, but abandoned as soon as they got it.
I suspect many Americans are like that. We like the rule of law. We have a sense of common decency that we like to extend to everyone. We tend not to like bullies, especially those of the “Eddie Haskell” variety that offer a pleasant face to one side and a cruel face to another.
We’ll take a lot from bullies. But eventually we shove back.
I think this is true, but I would say that a lot of the pro-protectionist Trump voter couch their views as cultural rather than economic. They want protectionism to bring back manufacturing jobs that pay well and lead to a middle class lifestyle, a lifestyle that is hard to sustain in today’s economy.
I wonder if these findings explain support of Trump in particular, or support of Republicans or Conservatives in general. I would not be surprised if the results were similar for the 2008 and 2012 elections. I would also not be surprised if the results were somewhat more pronounced in 2016 than in 2008 or 2012.
Further, even if these results were more notable in 2016, Trump’s particular appeal is not the only explanation. There was a wild swing in public policy and the media narrative regarding SSM between 2012 and 2016, and a major uptick in racial problems and the prevalence of the Left’s demonization of whites and men, both of which would contribute to a feeling of alienation among traditionalist Americans. On the other hand, Trump seemed to be the Republican most neutral to SSM, but this does not necessarily disprove the point, as someone concerned about the SSM shift might be motivated to support an outsider like Trump, even though Trump does not appear to consider this particular issue important.
I also wonder about the extent to which Trump’s brash and even joyful attacks on the political correctness of the elite Left was a major factor in his success. I wonder if the cited poll looked at this issue with something more specific than the “feel like a stranger in my own country” question.
That study is completely in line with my observations and my feelings. People are sick and tired of elites both from the left and the right telling us who should immigrate to the country, how our communities need to be altered to fit political correctness, and what social policies get forced down our throats.
I agree. Culture, immigration, and border security are why I voted for Trump.
I applaud the publication of this study which disproves the tedious, tired and untruthful narrative … Donald Trump was elected President because angry, white, working-class voters.
As VDH proves with his terrific article today … Blowing the election: Hillary Clinton five easy steps … it was the McMurphy Trumping Ratched effect ….
I think most of us — at least on the right — understood this was a typical Leftist lament, “We lost the election because voters are uncouth savages.” After any Democrat loss, the Left needs to demonstrate why their loss was illegitimate. These same savages would have been great Americans had they voted the right way, mind you.
Despite the name, Democrats hate the democratic process. People vote wrong.
Again, I’ll recall my thoughts on common decency and goodwill. For the average American these principles tend to drive political leanings which is why we can swing so widely from Obama to Trump. SSM, the discussion of police shootings began rooted in common decency. But when SSM advocates punished with totalitarian vigor anyone who disagreed, or when the BLM movement destroyed cities and neighborhoods in race riots, the pendulum swung away from them.
In truth, the Right best remember this. Show decency and goodwill and the people will tend to be on your side.
Trump did manage to flip a significant number of people who voted for Obama in the states that mattered. About 77,000 votes in just the right places. That was a significant enough inprovement over Romney and McCain to win. So, the question to ask is, would those people who flipped still have voted for Trump if he were replaced by someone else?
I don’t think the immigration people would have for anyone other than Ted Cruz, because nobody else was plausible in the direction they wanted.
Cultural change people? Maybe they would have voted for any Republican, maybe not. Somehow I don’t think they would embrace Jeb Bush, because he seemed entirely too apologetic about everything, but other people maybe. But when people feel bullied, they like it when they can feel that someone else is shoving back on their behalf, and Trump had that market cornered.
College being a risky investment? Again, hard to say, because this is less about actual policy and more about what people feel. In actual policy terms, you shouldn’t favor Trump over the others, because protectionism sucks and nothing else he said was that much more plausible compared to anything else anybody else said. But on a feeling level, he had the benefit of being able to say very plainly that there were problems and he’d be able to solve them because he’s a businessman, as opposed to everybody else who were just living in government forever.
So, maybe Trump was special. The real test would have been to see:
1. How much bigger the GOP turnout would have been if they ran somebody like Cruz or Rubio, and whether that would be decisive in any particular state.
2. Whether those 77,000 people who flipped still would have flipped and still would have been decisive.
The bolded addition is nonsense, of course.
Seriously. We could probably save the country if we could deprogram that right there.
Or not, but at least there would be less debt and less progressive brainwashing.
Good call, if you mean the bolded part is a very recent addition and has not been part of the enduring narrative.
I have a four year old daughter and I’m already working on deprogramming me. Part of me hopes the education bubble bursts within fourteen years. The other part is telling me (and my wife) to be ready to not push college on her and fully examine all her options. Going to college is deeply ingrained but doesn’t need to be.
Same here. The world seems to have turned upside down in the last few years – so much so that sometimes I wonder if I haven’t managed to stumble into a parallel universe.
I’m not convinced, myself, but the best argument for a negative answer I’ve heard was, “Cruz or Rubio might have gotten more votes in total, but they’d all be in Texas or the Deep South, so it wouldn’t have mattered.”
Dissolution–read decentralization–is a good thing. This is something we should all be promoting.
I agree. The democrats didn’t show any strength on an economic message at all, they just seemed to give voice to Identity Politics and running against the easily foreseeable outcomes their own policies.
This headline and article are spot on. I think its the first time in decades – that democrats lost the “They care about people like me” question.
In many ways the 2016 election felt like the longest election season I can remember. It should be over, can it just be over? Can we stop litigating the past, and start thinking about the future? (and no! not 2020)
That might have been me… I keep pointing at this article.
Michael Barone’s post election analysis.
Me three. The “stranger in my own country” thing is very real; it almost seems like illegal immigrants are more welcome here than I am, and I live in Texas so I can’t imagine what Yankees and Californians are going through.
But the transgender thing is even worse. It really does feel like we’re being gaslighted. Usually with leftist ideas I can see where they’re coming from, even if I think they’re dangerously wrong. But with this one the only thing I can think is, “How can so many people not see how ridiculous this is?”
The only difference between me and your friend is I saw it coming and jumped ship before Obergefell.
I was more or less similar, but I started with a more fundamentalist Christian mindset. He made a compelling argument at the time, and I’ve since realized that stomping my foot and yelling “No!” wasn’t an argument against it. However, I did have enough foresight to know where that was going.
I’m having this fight in my house right now. My soon to graduate oldest can’t grasp why I won’t pay 27% of my net income for the next four years (or let her borrow that much) to have her turned into a communist.
Yeah. The trans-activism is eating its own. Gaslighting is the perfect description when the Left tells women recovering from abuse that they are the problem if they don’t like men in their bathrooms and when they tell lesbians that they are the problem when they aren’t attracted to men who declare they identify as women. It’s pure insanity and inanity and they’re running with it hard.
No its not decentralization, its dissolution. Balkanization and killing each other.
I’m a stranger in my own country no matter which party wins, and it’s not because of immigrants. In fact, many of the immigrants (though not all) remind me of the country I used to know. So I vote against Democrats and GOP establishment types.
This, keep demonizing me for being a white, hetero male, lefties, and see what happens.
And then there were those of us who simply wanted to shake up the good old boy establishment in Washington D.C. and thumb our noses at a partisan press run amuck. The fight continues.
I wonder that too, especially with the way Rachel Dolezal is treated. Why is she a laughingstock in the popular culture and Bruce Jenner is given awards? Why are they not either both respected or both laughed at? Transsexual supporters push back at people making an ‘if I thought I was a dog’ argument because transsexuals still think they’re human. So does Rachel. I would think her treatment would give some people pause, but it doesn’t seem to.