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.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to Understanding how the media understands Trump voters

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    The potential brown shirts are already declaring themselves with talk of coups, revolution and second amendment remedies. Maybe among the volunteer poll watchers as well that Trump is registering.

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