Tag Archives: Trump voters

When The Emperor Has No Clothes

Most of us recall the children’s story about the Emperor who paraded in his imaginary finery and the masses of subjects who obediently “saw” that clothing. Only when a young boy in the crowd named the reality–that the Emperor was naked–did others recognize that they’d been deceiving themselves.

The story is a great parable for America’s disinclination to see the “naked” truth about Trump’s voters. Political figures in both parties, aided and abetted by media figures unwilling to trust their eyes, insist that Trump voters were motivated by economic uncertainty.

Virtually all the peer-reviewed research finds otherwise.

Diana C. Mutz is a professor of political science and communication at the University of Pennsylvania (and the distinguished daughter of former Indiana Republican Lieutenant Governor John Mutz). She is one of many who have studied Trump voters; results of her research recently appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
Mutz found no evidence that personal economic anxiety motivated Trump supporters. The one factor that did increase the likelihood that someone would vote for Trump was a belief that white people are more discriminated against than people of color, and that Christians and men experience more discrimination than Muslims and women.

Charles Blow recently commented on the Mutz study in The New York Times.

A new study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found what other studies have found: Support for Trump was largely motivated by white fear of displacement from dominance.

As the study put it:

White Americans’ declining numerical dominance in the United States together with the rising status of African Americans and American insecurity about whether the United States is still the dominant global economic superpower combined to prompt a classic defensive reaction among members of dominant groups.”

This new study dovetails with an analysis of millennial Trump voters published last year in The Washington Post: “First, white millennial Trump voters were likely to believe in something we call ‘white vulnerability’ — the perception that whites, through no fault of their own, are losing ground to other groups. Second, racial resentment was the primary driver of white vulnerability — even when accounting for income, education level or employment.”

This is the explanation for those of us who find it incomprehensible that anyone could vote for this proudly ignorant, embarrassing and dangerous buffoon. As Blow says,

Trump is one of the last gasps of American white supremacy and patriarchy. He is one of its Great White Hopes.

The distillation of his campaign message was not only to halt the rapid pace of change, but also to reverse it, to undo the Obama-izing of America and restore it to whiteness. It was also to uncouple America from globalizing influences and specifically elevate American whiteness.

If anything has become clear during the year and a half of this disastrous Presidency it is that Trump’s only “agenda” is to reverse and obliterate anything Barack Obama accomplished. The absence of any other coherent motivation–the inability to articulate any philosophy of governance, the obvious absence of any belief structure other than his own grandiose claims of superiority, the constant “dog whistles” and repeated use of racist and misogynist language–is as obvious to people who pay attention as was the Emperor’s lack of clothing.

Racism isn’t limited to cross-burnings and overt acts of discrimination. Our persistent unwillingness to confront the obvious–our discomfort with the reality that so many of our fellow Americans recoil from an equality that threatens to divest them of their perceived superior position in society–is understandable, but not at all helpful.

Delusion won’t dress the Emperor.

 

 

Truth And Consequences

What do you do when research consistently comes up with a result that is explanatory but politically incendiary–data that enrages the very people who need to be calmed down?

Anyone who followed the trajectory of the Trump campaign recognized the degree to which racial animus suffused it. That animus wasn’t a surprise; it had been stoked by the behavior of Republicans during Obama’s Presidency–the intransigence of the Congressional GOP, and the eruption of “birthers” and conspiracy theorists and garden-variety racists among the base.

As my youngest son says, there were only two kinds of voters who cast ballots for Trump:  unapologetic racists and voters for whom Trump’s bigotry wasn’t considered disqualifying.

The degree to which racial resentment influenced Trump voters has been confirmed in study after study.  Vox recently reported on a survey of the minority of millennials who voted for Trump.

Even when controlling for partisanship, ideology, region and a host of other factors, white millennials fit Michael Tesler’s analysis, explored here. As he put it, economic anxiety isn’t driving racial resentment; rather, racial resentment is driving economic anxiety. We found, as he has in a larger population, that racial resentment is the biggest predictor of white vulnerability among white millennials. Economic variables like education, income and employment made a negligible difference.

To anyone who’s been following the research on this, the findings should come as little surprise. There have now been numerous studies that found support for Trump is closely linked to racial resentment, defined by Fowler, Medenica, and Cohen as “a moral feeling that blacks violate such traditional American values as individualism and self-reliance.”

The article reviewed a number of previous studies that have come to a similar conclusion. (I’m aware of several others) The author argued that it is important to understand the increased role racism plays in today’s politics in order to counter it–that those of us who are less threatened by the waning of white privilege should have “empathetic discussions” with Trump supporters in order to reduce their levels of fear and resentment.

Somehow, I doubt that a frank-but-“empathetic” discussion that begins with one person saying “I know your vote was racially motivated” is going to end well.

That is the dilemma. It really didn’t take a multitude of studies to see where Trump’s appeal lay. All it took was a look at his rhetoric and the composition of his rally crowds. The question is: what do we do about it?

Racial bias has always been there (Southern Strategy anyone?), but the studies indicate that it has spiked–leading to the election of a man who constantly feeds it.

The election of a black President was a shock to many people who held negative racial attitudes but had felt it prudent to suppress their expression. The prospect of a majority-minority country by 2040 or so, the sudden ubiquity of “uppity” women, same-sex marriage…all these things destroyed their complacent belief that straight white Christian men would always be in charge.

All the empathy in the world isn’t going to make African-Americans “know their place,” return women to the kitchen and nursery, and put gays back in the closet. The pace of social and technological change isn’t suddenly going to abate. The progress that terrifies Trump voters may slow, but it is unlikely to reverse.

An older lawyer with whom I practiced many years ago used to say that there is only one legal question: what do we do?

“What do we do?” is the question Americans of good will face now, and I doubt that “empathy” –no matter how appropriate–is the answer.

The good news is that there are many more Americans who don’t vote their fears and resentments than there are those who do. While we wait for the hate and fear to subside–and they eventually will– we need to redouble our efforts to get those voters to the polls.

Computational Propaganda, Part Two

After each new Trump travesty, my friends and family have taken to asking each other the same question: “Who the hell could still support this buffoon? How stupid would someone have to be to drink this particular Kool-aid?”

A recent study conducted by Oxford University apparently answers that (not-so-rhetorical) question.

Low-quality, extremist, sensationalist and conspiratorial news published in the US was overwhelmingly consumed and shared by rightwing social network users, according to a new study from the University of Oxford.

The study, from the university’s “computational propaganda project”, looked at the most significant sources of “junk news” shared in the three months leading up to Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address this January, and tried to find out who was sharing them and why.

“On Twitter, a network of Trump supporters consumes the largest volume of junk news, and junk news is the largest proportion of news links they share,” the researchers concluded. On Facebook, the skew was even greater. There, “extreme hard right pages – distinct from Republican pages – share more junk news than all the other audiences put together.”

The researchers monitored 13,500 politically-active US Twitter users, and a separate group of 48,000 public Facebook pages, and looked at the external websites that they were sharing.

The findings speak to the level of polarisation common across the US political divide. “The two main political parties, Democrats and Republicans, prefer different sources of political news, with limited overlap,” the researchers write.

The study did not find a high percentage of social media penetration by the Russians, but it did identify clear political preferences of those who consumed junk news.

But there was a clear skew in who shared links from the 91 sites the researchers had manually coded as “junk news” (based on breaching at least three of five quality standards including “professionalism”, “bias” and “credibility”). “The Trump Support group consumes the highest volume of junk news sources on Twitter, and spreads more junk news sources, than all the other groups put together. This pattern is repeated on Facebook, where the Hard Conservatives group consumed the highest proportion of junk news.”

There has always been a credulous segment of the American public; given our embarrassingly low levels of civic literacy, it shouldn’t surprise us that a percentage of voters unhappy with their position in the polity would “choose the news” that confirmed their biases. As a colleague of mine recently wrote (citations omitted),

The flourishing of scientific polling and the increased sophistication of social science research methods have provided scholars with an opportunity to put these concerns to the test, and the results have largely confirmed the worst fears of political philosophers. Foundational studies of voters and elections published in the mid-20th Century documented voters’ ignorance, wishful thinking, and reliance on simple cues like partisanship, and nearly 8 decades of subsequent research has largely confirmed those conclusions.The democratic polity is not now and has never been made up of highly knowledgeable, informed and engaged civic citizens.

And there are plenty of charlatans, would-be power-brokers and snake-oil salesmen ready to lead the willing down the garden path…..

The Puzzle of Trump Support

Americans have spent the past four plus months watching a profoundly unfit and erratic man do significant damage to America’s interests while debasing the highest office in the land, and they are increasingly asking each other how this could have happened. How could anyone have voted for a man who flaunted his ignorance of  government and the world, who demonstrated emotional instability virtually every day, and who repeatedly and publicly violated the most basic norms of civility?

For that matter, given his performance to date, how is it possible that a majority of those who voted for Trump still support him?

A number of columnists and social scientists have attributed Trump’s support to economic distress. I’m not buying it. Economic concerns, Hillary hatred and similar motives may have coexisted with other characteristics of Trump voters, but on closer look, they lack explanatory power.

Two paragraphs from a recent article in Politico come much closer to the mark:

Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement was not really about the climate. And despite his overheated rhetoric about the “tremendous” and “draconian” burdens the deal would impose on the U.S. economy, Trump’s decision wasn’t really about that, either. America’s commitments under the Paris deal, like those of the other 194 cooperating nations, were voluntary. So those burdens were imaginary.

No, Trump’s abrupt withdrawal from this carefully crafted multilateral compromise was a diplomatic and political slap: It was about extending a middle finger to the world, while reminding his base that he shares its resentments of fancy-pants elites and smarty-pants scientists and tree-hugging squishes who look down on real Americans who drill for oil and dig for coal. (Emphasis mine.)

I’m well aware that the plural of anecdote isn’t data, but the few people I know who voted for Donald Trump fit this analysis perfectly. They harbor profound racial and (especially) cultural resentments. Support for a buffoon despised by knowledgable, thoughtful people was their way of sticking it to the “elitists,” those snobs who read books and newspapers, support the arts, drive hybrids and recycle their trash.

Post-election research tells us that Trump voters weren’t poor, but they were disproportionately uneducated, white and rural, and deeply resentful of urban Americans, African-Americans and brown immigrants. (Pale Brits and Canadians are okay.) They share a conviction that the “smarty pants” are looking down on them, and if we are honest, there’s a fair amount of evidence supporting that conviction: today’s America is extremely economically segregated, and just as racial segregation fosters racial distrust and stereotyping, economic segregation reinforces tribalism and disdain for the “Other.” That disdain goes both ways.

This is not to deny the economic contribution to those resentments. If economic policy could help rural communities flourish again, the cultural hostility (although probably not the racial animus) would abate somewhat. Right now, however, the more evidence of Trump’s incompetence and volatility that emerges, the more his core supporters deny administration wrongdoing and buy into improbable apologetics and wild conspiracy theories.

They’re adult versions of the kids on the playground who stuck their fingers in their ears and said nah nah I can’t hear you.

When this bizarre episode in our country’s history has run its course, and government has (hopefully) returned the policy-making apparatus to mature adults who respect data and evidence, who understand cause and effect and the scientific method, we will need to address the concerns of people left behind by social change, people who feel adrift in a brave new world that they find utterly inhospitable.

We need to do something, because “I’ll show you!” is a really bad reason to hand the nuclear codes over to a dangerously incompetent clown.

America the Divided

A new Brookings Institution report shows that a substantial majority of Americans live in counties that did not vote for Donald Trump.

The contentious political back and forth seen daily in the media, cable TV, and polls should come as no surprise in a nation where Donald Trump won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote by 2.9 million votes. Newly released Census population estimates for 2016 provide further evidence of just why the nation’s politics are split demographically. These data show that 31 million fewer Americans live in counties that voted for Trump than in those carried by Hillary Clinton…

While it is true that Clinton took less than one sixth of the nation’s 3,100+ counties, she won most of the largest ones, including 111 of the 137 counties with over 500,000 people. Trump won the Electoral College by successfully navigating rural-urban balances in key swing states, taking small areas by large vote margins.

The report–replete with multi-colored graphs– is well worth studying. It also describes the demographics of those Trump and Clinton counties, noting that when they are classified by income,  the least well-off households are over represented in Trump counties and the most well-off households are underrepresented.

Generally, Trump counties are least likely to be home to those with “urban” attributes. Only about one in five foreign-born residents live in these counties, compared with a much larger share of the United States’ native-born population (49 percent) that calls these places home. Fewer single than married persons are Trump county residents. Especially sharp divides are seen by race and ethnicity. Less than one fifth of all Asians and less than one third of all Hispanics and blacks live in counties carried by Trump.

I have written previously about the increasing urban/rural divide, and the Brookings research adds considerable data confirming that divide.

Still more confirmation is contained in an article from the Atlantic, titled “Red State, Blue City.”

The article begins by underscoring the decidedly progressive politics of cities, and the growing numbers of people choosing to live in them, but it also makes an often-overlooked point:

If liberal advocates are clinging to the hope that federalism will allow them to create progressive havens, they’re overlooking a big problem: Power may be decentralized in the American system, but it devolves to the state, not the city.

City folks in Indiana are painfully aware of that reality; Indianapolis is the economic generator in a state that barely  pretends to allow municipalities any self-determination. There’s no meaningful “home rule” in Indiana. The article also points out that most state-level policymaking is conservative:

That’s partly because Republicans enjoy unprecedented control in state capitals—they hold 33 governorships and majorities in 32 state legislatures. The trend also reflects a broader shift: Americans are in the midst of what’s been called “the Big Sort,” as they flock together with people who share similar socioeconomic profiles and politics. In general, that means rural areas are becoming more conservative, and cities more liberal. Even the reddest states contain liberal cities: Half of the U.S. metro areas with the biggest recent population gains are in the South, and they are Democratic. Texas alone is home to four such cities; Clinton carried each of them. Increasingly, the most important political and cultural divisions are not between red and blue states but between red states and the blue cities within.

There is no love lost between these progressive cities and the rural areas surrounding them.

In most states, agriculture is no longer king. Rural areas are struggling, while densely packed areas with highly educated workforces and socially liberal lifestyles flourish. In turn, rural voters harbor growing resentment toward those in cities, from Austin to Atlanta, from Birmingham to Chicago….

By and large, though, cities hold the weaker hand. It makes sense that these areas, finding themselves economically vital, increasingly progressive, and politically disempowered, would want to use local ordinances as a bulwark against conservative state and federal policies. But this gambit is likely to backfire. Insofar as states have sometimes granted cities leeway to enact policy in the past, that forbearance has been the result of political norms, not legal structures. Once those norms crumble, and state legislatures decide to assert their authority, cities will have very little recourse.

An important lesson of last year’s presidential election is that American political norms are much weaker than they had appeared, allowing a scandal-plagued, unpopular candidate to triumph—in part because voters outside of cities objected to the pace of cultural change. Another lesson is that the United States is coming to resemble two separate countries, one rural and one urban.

Only one of them, at present, appears entitled to self-determination.