by John McLean
Now it’s all said and done, we have exit polls and post-analyses — slightly more reliable than their pre-election counterparts. Now we can start to come to terms not just with what has happened, but why. As always, it’s important that the right lessens are learned sooner rather than later.
Lesson number one:
That’s the primary message that needs to get out there. A false narrative is in danger of settling in that this was a rejection of the economic failings of globalization brought about by an out-of-touch ‘liberal elite’. But the economy was a more important issue for the Clinton voter, by some margin. She also won on those earning under $50k a year.
This is backed up by research from the London School of Economics (LSE). Taking the central issues of those white American voters who rated Trump 0/10 and contrasting it with those who awarded the then-candidate 10/10 reveals stark differences in priorities:
Those who rejected Trump were 10 times more likely than hardcore Trump aficionados to state poverty or inequality as their main concern. The economy was an issue for both. All of this flies in the face of the ‘left behind’ hypothesis.
There certainly are places out there which have faced economic ruin in recent decades and have turned away from the Democrats as a result. I recommend a compassionate, 10-minute video take on pro-Trump McDowell County, West Virginia, from the Guardian.
That being said, a similar article from the New Yorker exposed the deep-seated racial issues and changing demographics which sat alongside the sense of economic injustice as central concerns in the adjacent Logan County, and the graphs above demonstrate that immigration is far more consequential for Trump supporters than those who reject him.
This brings us to the second important lesson:
2. Trump’s main voter base is the white majority, concerned about ethnic change.
That Trump’s voter base is rooted in white America is both predictable and demonstrable:
It is also apparent that immigration and terrorism were and are more critical than the economy to the pro-Trump mix, by large margins. Further data displayed in tables below shows that shaping the Supreme Court is also a major concern for those who voted for Trump and that they did so because they believe he can bring about change.
All of this suggests that social reform with a view to maintaining the social status quo is as much, if not more of a priority for Trump voters than economic reform.
The same LSE research also substantiates this, pointing out that white American support for Trump in a given geographic area coincides significantly with a recent influx of Latinos. Where there has been no ethnic change, just over 25% of whites rate Trump 10/10. Where there has been a 30% increase in the Latino population, 70% of whites rate Trump 10/10.
Using Brexit as an example the research also makes the point that valuing stability and respect for authority also provides a statistically significant indicator of voting intention. Diversity and difference brought about by ethnic change (read: non-whites moving in to the neighborhood), alarms embedded majorities who hold these values, and drove support both for Brexit and for Trump. (A fuller explanation if this phenomenon, in the Brexit context, can be found here).
Resistance to ethnic change is a key, if not the key driver of support for Trump.
3. Trump was seen as the lesser evil, if that.
It has become generally accepted as fact that a huge portion of the electorate saw both of the candidates as somewhere between weak and reprehensible. From there, most mainstream commentators assumed voters were less repelled by the negativity around Clinton given the outlandish statements and accusations revolving around Trump.
In reality, if it the voter distrusted their own candidate or if it was more about disliking the opponent, Trump won. Less than a fifth of Americans had an unfavorable view of both candidates, and when they did the Donald was far more likely to get the vote, not Hillary. Democrats were also more likely to vote for Trump than Republicans were to vote for Clinton. I’ll leave it to others who are much more qualified than I to address exactly why this is.
4. Minorities in America are now seriously lacking in representation, particularly blacks.
Pew research demonstrates that views on the nature and significance of racism in modern America is wildly divergent between the two main parties. The first chart below shows essentially contrasting views on endemic racism in the criminal justice system correlate with voters’ choice for president. (This is perhaps unsurprising given that only 1 in 10 blacks so much as lean republican).
Unsurprising as this trend might be, this racial division is setting up to become more and more significant in the coming years. Less than 10% of blacks voted for Trump. In a country in which around 4 in 10 people are non-white, only 1 in 10 members of the Republican Party are non-white and Clinton stormed all non-white demographics. But the Republican Party will not only hold the presidency, but also the House of Representatives and the Senate, and at least one new judge on the Supreme Court will share the republican point of view.
This monopoly on governmental power coupled with other fundamental divisions linked closely with party affiliation — such as on climate change, religious representation and rights, etc. — and recent obstructionism on the part of republicans in Congress, set the scene for a potential era of political polarization not seen in decades, if not centuries.
5. The young and college-educated didn’t get their result, but only ethnic minorities.
I’m young, I’m university-educated, and on 9 November 2016 I woke to a shock and despondency becoming all-to-familiar. Knowing the young and the college-educated lost out in the USA, it seemed just like Brexit. Younger generations who see the opportunities in change and are less allied to tradition and established order were seeing doors closed before them by their parents and grandparents.
But it was more complex than that.
The average young person, the average college-educated person lost out in America, but the white young or college-educated did not. It was non-whites of all ages and education-levels who lost out, by huge margins. Again, the primary division was ethnic, and the ethnic misrepresentation in the United States is thrown more sharply into relief. The youth of the UK share the aspirations and outlook not of the youth of the USA but of its minority communities.
I wonder if my generation in the UK and Ireland will hold firm and take the opportunities of the majority in coming decades, or if the changing political context we find ourselves in will seep into our worldviews, gradually turning us into the generations that are preceding us. Time will tell.
The US is expected to become a minority-majority nation sometime around 2060 — a little later if Trump and his supporters get the immigration curbs and deportations they hope for. Minorities there have a little longer to wait.
Living in such political poverty, I’m reminded of the following, slightly cliched but always poignant extract from W. B. Yeats’ The Cloths of Heaven:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
I am not confident the broader aspirations of my generation will survive the coming years unscathed. It seems to be a question of ‘to what extent’ — rather than ‘if’ — Trump and the Republican Party will tread upon the dreams of ethnic minorities in America.