There are many theories of why people support Donald Trump. One theory is that the voters are angry and hate the political establishment. Middle class workers have been hurt by the economy and are desperate to find someone who can shake things up. Or at least stand up to the special interests who are sucking our country dry for their own benefit. For example, an article in The New Yorker summed up Trump’s appeal this way:
The base of the [Republican] Party, the middle-aged white working class, has suffered at least as much as any demographic group because of globalization, low-wage immigrant labor, and free trade. Trump sensed the rage that flared from this pain and made it the fuel of his campaign.
But a detailed analysis of the 2016 American National Election Study has a simpler explanation. First, the analysis found that there is little correlation between how people feel about the state of the economy and whether they support Trump.
What the analysis found was surprising, but ultimately already right in front of our eyes. If people answer yes to the following two questions, there is a (stunning) 94% probability that they are a Trump voter:
- Are you white?
- Do you believe Barack Obama is a Muslim?
The next best predictors are the person’s level of resentment toward blacks, and whether they feel that Muslims are “violent”.
That’s right. You can predict (with 94% accuracy) whether someone is a Donald Trump supporter by determining if they agree with racist statements and (slightly delusional) racist theories about the president.
The analysis also found a strong correlation between racial resentment and how much they disapprove of the job Obama is doing as president. This in turn leads to a strong correlation between a person’s job approval rating for Obama, and whether they support Hillary Clinton. These correlations hold true regardless of how people feel about the economy.
Indeed, because racist statements and actions can be socially unacceptable, it appears that people use statements about the economy as a (more acceptable) proxy for expressing their racist feelings.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.