Understanding how the media understands Trump voters

It’s now been a long-running joke among us elite liberal types that the media keeps on saying “economic anxiety!” about Trump supporters when the “racial resentment!” is so right in front of us.  Yglesias as made a cottage industry on twitter of pointing out blatant racism of Trump supporters and archly referring to their economic anxiety.

Dylan Matthews with a great piece on this.  Honestly, one of the best I’ve read this election season.  The highlights:

The press has gotten extremely comfortable with describing a Trump electorate that simply doesn’t exist. Cottle describes his supporters as “white voters living on the edges of the economy.” This is, in nearly every particular, wrong.

There is absolutely no evidence that Trump’s supporters, either in the primary or the general election, are disproportionately poor or working class. Exit polling from the primaries found that Trump voters made about as much as Ted Cruz voters, and significantly more than supporters of either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. Trump voters, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver found, had a median household income of $72,000, a fair bit higher than the $62,000 median household income for non-Hispanic whites in America.

A major study from Gallup’s Jonathan Rothwell confirmed this. Trump support was correlated with higher, not lower, income, both among the population as a whole and among white people. Trump supporters were less likely to be unemployed or to have dropped out of the labor force. Areas with more manufacturing, or higher exposure to imports from China, were less likely to think favorably of Trump…

So what is driving Trump supporters? In the general election, the story is pretty simple: What’s driving support for Trump is that he is the Republican nominee, a little fewer than half of voters always vote for Republicans, and Trump is getting most of those voters.

In the primary, though, the story was, as my colleague Zack Beauchamp has explained at length, almost entirely about racial resentment. There’s a wide array of data to back this up.

Much of which I’ve already highlighted here, so…

The message this research sends is very, very clear. There is a segment of the Republican Party that is opposed to racial equality. It has increased in numbers in reaction to the election of a black president. The result was that an anti–racial equality candidate won the Republican nomination.

Given that the US is one recession away from a Republican winning the presidency, this is a concerning development…

The American press is overwhelmingly made up of left-of-center white people who live in large cities and have internalized very strong anti-racist norms. As a result, it tends to be composed of people who think of racism as a very, very serious character defect, and who are riddled with anxiety about being perceived as out of touch with “real America.” “Real America” being, per decades of racially charged tropes in our culture, white, non-urban America. [emphases mine]

So in comes Donald Trump, a candidate running on open white nationalism whose base is whites who — while not economically struggling compared with poor whites backing Hillary Clinton and doing way better economically than black or Latino people backing Clinton — definitely live in the “real America” which journalists feel a yearning to connect to and desperately don’t want to be out of touch with.

Describing these people as motivated by racial resentment, per journalists’ deep-seated belief that racism is a major character defect, seems cruel and un-empathetic, even if it’s supported by extensive amounts of social scientific research and indeed by the statements of Trump’s supporters themselves.

So it becomes very, very tempting to just ignore this evidence and insist that Trump supporters are in fact the wretched of the earth, and to connect them with every possible pathology of white America: post-industrial decay, the opioid crisis, labor force dropouts, rising middle-age mortality rates, falling social mobility, and so on. This almost always fails (globalization victims and labor force dropouts are less likely to support Trump, per Rothwell), but if there’s even a small hint of a connection, as when Rothwell found a correlation between Trump support and living in an area with rising white mortality, you’re in luck. If you can squint hard enough, the narrative will always survive…

But we have a good case study we can examine to see if Western European–style welfare states can prevent far-right racist backlashes from popping up. It’s called Western Europe.

Comprehensive welfare states are very, very good. They do not solve racism. Whites in both Europe and America have made it very clear that they will not accept becoming a demographic minority without a fight, and will continue to vote for candidates that speak to that concern and promise immigration policies that put off white minority status for as long as possible.

Great, smart stuff on many levels.  This is really going to stick with me as I continue to think about this election.


Quick hits (part II)

Oh, my a practically 100% politics version.  Well, there has been a lot going on.

1) Ronald Brownstein on Trump’s legacy for the Republican Party:

Minorities, millennials, and white-collar whites have been the most likely groups of voters to reject Trump personally as unqualified and temperamentally unfit for the presidency. But in polls they are also most resistant to his insular agenda. Those voters display particular opposition to Trump’s most racially barbed proposals—including his plans for a Mexican border wall and the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, and his evolving proposals to bar Muslims from entering the United States—and are most inclined to view Trump as biased against women and minorities. As a new national survey from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs shows, they are also the most dubious about his protectionism on trade—and most likely to view greater global economic integration as benefiting both the country overall and their own living standards.

All of this signals that, even without his personal foibles, Trumpism alienates precisely the electorate’s fastest growing groups, which include minorities, millennials, and college-educated white women. That’s why so many Republican strategists have long feared he was steering the GOP to disaster by identifying it so explicitly with white backlash against demographic, cultural, and economic change.

The challenge those Trump critics face is that his bristling defensive nationalism has struck a powerful chord within the Republican coalition—primarily, but not exclusively, within its growing blue-collar wing. Chen, like many GOP thinkers, believes Republicans can’t simply revert to their old agenda of free trade and smaller government if Trump loses, but must find ways to address the white working-class anxieties that “Trump exposed” in ways that don’t alienate so many other voters.

2) Paul Waldman on what the hacked emails really tell us about American politics.  Nothing we didn’t know:

It takes a mighty effort to turn this into something sinister. But some are trying, though. The New York Times story about it notes:

The private discussions among her advisers about policy — on trade, on the Black Lives Matter movement, on Wall Street regulation — often revolved around the political advantages and pitfalls of different positions, while there was little or no discussion about what Mrs. Clinton actually believed. Mrs. Clinton’s team at times seemed consumed with positioning and optics.

That’s like saying that emails circulating among the coaching staff of the Washington Nationals “at times seemed consumed with how to score runs and prevent their opponents from doing the same.” These are political operatives. That’s what they do.

3) Jay Rosen on how the mainstream media is ill-equipped to properly cover the asymmetry between the parties.

4) Molly Ball talks with disaffected and smart conservative Avik Roy on the problems with the Republican Party.

5) Waldman on how Trump has revealed his loathsome self:

It’s safe to say that commenting, even implicitly, on the looks of his accusers would not be part of that plan.

But think about it: Since this story broke last Friday, have you heard Trump say a single thing that demonstrates he’s even attempting to understand women’s perspectives on this question? Beyond a perfunctory “No one respects women more than I do,” he has been completely unable to express even an iota of sympathy for what women go through every day, the way that harassment and unwanted advances are a reality of life for them. An ordinary politician would do that, or at least try, even if it wasn’t sincere and someone had to explain to him how to go about it. But not Donald Trump.

6) I decided to find some good, simple explanations of Hillary’s email “scandal.”  This Politifact was the best.

7) NC Senator Richard Burr probably picked the wrong time to become an official Trump adviser.

8) And Paul Waldman, again, on Ted Cruz, laughingstock:

The fact that Cruz caved in so quickly and so easily and for such motives might have been a tragedy. The fact that he did it just two weeks — two weeks! — before Trump’s campaign collapsed in on itself and was deserted by one prominent Republican after the next, that’s not tragic. That’shilarious.

And the funniest part of all? There wasn’t a single aspect of this that wasn’t utterly predictable, utterly obvious — apparently to everyone except someone of Cruz’s universally recognized intelligence. I mean, who could have thought that Donald Trump would self-destruct? Who could have thought that some horrible new thing would come out that would finally break the camel’s back? Who could have foreseen this, except anyone who had paid attention at any of the last six months?

If Cruz could have held his nerve for just two more weeks, he’d be looking smart, courageous, and principled. A prescient man, one who could be TrusTed. Two weeks!

There are many, many causes for sadness these days in American politics. Ted Cruz, however, has become a source of mirth. And these days, I’ll take all the comfort I can get.

9) Great Seth Myers clip on Trump supporters denying sexual assault claims.

10) Speaking of which, Brendan Nyhan wrote this two years ago on how social science explains the floodgate of accusations coming loose on Bill Cosby.  Very much applies to Trump as well.

11) Whether or not Trump is an anti-Semite doesn’t matter, because he’s gone full-on anti-Semite in his rhetoric.

12) Former McCain adviser Steve Schmidt on the Republican Party:

As a conservative Republican, I find anathematic the regulatory and tax policies of liberal Democrats. But there’s no question that Republicans — as an institution and what we’re led by — are unfit to run the country, or to govern the country.

You have a massive reckoning coming due that will play out over years on the serially putting party above country. We’ve reached the moment in time that George Washington warned about in his farewell address with the danger of factions. You have basically warring tribes that subordinate the national interest to their tribal interest.

There’s no higher value obviously for most — though not all — Republican elected officials than maintaining fidelity to Donald Trump. What’s extraordinary about that is that in America, we don’t take an oath to a strongman leader; we take it to the Constitution of the United States. And Donald Trump is obviously manifestly unfit in every conceivable way to occupy the office of the American head of state.

13) Excellent Seth Masket on the moral failure of Paul Ryan:

Paul Ryan is the elected leader of the most democratic branch of government. The speaker of the House has a dual mandate — he or she functions as a party leader (and is often elected on a party-line vote) but is also a constitutional officer, serving as the leader of the chamber. Sen. Mitch McConnell, as the leader of a party caucus, bears no such official responsibility to his chamber. (Joe Biden is president of the Senate.) Indeed, it is often the speaker of the House who will push back against accretions of executive power, which can lead anti-democratic outcomes.

But when democratic institutions themselves are under attack, does not the leader of the most democratic branch of government have some obligation to defend it? How can Ryan maintain an endorsement for a presidential candidate who has promised, repeatedly and publicly, to undermine the nation’s democratic traditions?

To be sure, there has been no shortage of statements by Trump inviting condemnation by his fellow Republicans on a broad range of topics. But when democracy itself is at risk, there is no political figure better situated to stand up and defend it than the House speaker. By maintaining his endorsement for Trump, Ryan has failed at this vital task.

14) Nice exploration of the complicated relationships between race, class, and political views in the Monkey Cage.

15) Even Krauthammer cannot take Trump’s “lock her up” talk.

16) This 538 feature that lets you play around with the demographics of states and see how it would affect their voting patterns is so much fun.

17) Loved Barry Schwartz’s Paradox of Choice.  One of those popular social science books that has stayed with me ever since reading it (too much choice is a bad thing).  Here an article on the implications for the dating world.

18) Ryan Lizza’s profile of Trump campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway is good stuff.  This little bit at the beginning real caught me and certainly explained why a woman who thinks like this would work for Trump:

Conway, who is the first woman to run a Republican Presidential campaign, told me that she was proud of the milestone but not hung up on it. “I’ve been in a very male-dominated business for decades,” she said. “I found, particularly early on, that there’s plenty of room for passion, but there’s very little room for emotion.” She added, “I tell people all the time, ‘Don’t be fooled, because I am a man by day.’ ”

19) A 33 tweet long tweetstorm on how impossible it would be to “rig” the election (write a blog post already!!).  I’m sure Trump’s campaign will take this to heart ;-).

20) A good explainer on just how absurd Trump’s accusations of libel are.

21) Ezra’s “unified theory” of Trump scandals:

A disciplined politician would have spent the past few weeks executing a strategy that played to Hillary Clinton’s vulnerabilities rather than his own. He would have focused on the WikiLeaks emails, and on his best messages. He would have dismissed accusations against himself as efforts to change the subject, and then moved on from them. He would have worked overtime to shore up support among wavering Republican politicians.

Of late, Trump’s behavior reminds me of the Joker’s epic speech in The Dark Knight. “Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it. You know, I just … do things. The mob has plans, the cops have plans, Gordon’s got plans. You know, they’re schemers. Schemers trying to control their little worlds. I’m not a schemer.”

That’s Donald Trump. A dog chasing cars. A guy who just … does things.

22) Walmart discovers that it is actually good business to compensate and treat your employees well.  It’s all about the theory of “efficiency wages.”

23) The fact that I want to believe this so much and that it seems to make intuitive sense with my experience actually makes me skeptical.  But I’ve been reading enough lately without actually delving into this article Mika tweeted a link to.  Here’s the abstract:

Conservatives differ from liberals in a variety of domains, including exhibiting greater fear and disgust sensitivity. Additionally, experimental procedures to reduce reasoning ability lead to stronger endorsement of conservative views. We propose that dual-process models of moral judgements can account for these findings, with conservatives relying on System 1 (fast, emotional) and liberals relying on System 2 (slow, reasoned) processes. To test this theory, we had liberal and conservative participants respond to moral dilemmas under cognitive load or with no load. As predicted, liberals took longer to respond under cognitive load than under no load, indicating a reliance on controlled reasoning processes. Conservatives’ response times were not affected by cognitive load. These differences cannot be accounted for by group differences in logical reasoning or working memory capacity. Instead, as predicted, logical reasoning ability positively predicted the time that liberals, but not conservatives, spent contemplating the dilemmas. These findings suggest that differential reliance on Systems 1 and 2 may be a fundamental aspect of left-right political orientation. They also challenge intuitionist models of morality and politics and suggest a dual-process theory of morality could account for some of the discrepancies in the political psychology literature.

24) Nice interview with the Post’s David Fahrenthold, who has done such exemplary work on the Trump beat.

25) No matter what happens November 8th, how damn well Republicans have gerrymandered this country is depressing in its ongoing long-term ramifications.

26) Fascinating essay from a psychologist who spent his career counseling Catholic priests who fall in love.

27) Paul Waldman on the wave of misogyny Clinton’s election will surely unleash.  When we think about what has happened with racism under Obama, it really is depressing.


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