A study conducted by University of Pennsylvania political scientist Diana C. Mutz has found that white voters who participated in the 2016 presidential election were more concerned with the growing power of minorities in the U.S. and not “economic anxiety” as the media reported after the election.
According to a press release from university, the finding concluded that, “Traditionally high-status Americans, namely whites, feel their status in America and the world is threatened by America’s growing racial diversity and a perceived loss of U.S. global dominance. Under threat by these engines of change, America’s socially dominant groups increased their support in 2016 for the candidate who most emphasized reestablishing status hierarchies of the past.”
The New York Times summarizes the report, suggesting that Trump voters weren’t reacting to economic conditions or anger at the Obama administration so much as fears of losing influence in country that has been politically and culturally dominated by white Christians.
Based on survey data from a nationally representative group of about 1,200 voters polled in 2012 and 2016, Mutz set out to answer whether there was evidence to support the economic anxiety argument pushed by media analysts, or did the fear of becoming less powerful influence their votes.
As the Times reports, “Losing a job or income between 2012 and 2016 did not make a person any more likely to support Mr. Trump, Dr. Mutz found. Neither did the mere perception that one’s financial situation had worsened. A person’s opinion on how trade affected personal finances had little bearing on political preferences. Neither did unemployment or the density of manufacturing jobs in one’s area.”
“It wasn’t people in those areas that were switching, those folks were already voting Republican,” Dr. Mutz added.
“Political uprisings are often about downtrodden groups rising up to assert their right to better treatment and more equal life conditions relative to high-status groups,” Mutz wrote. “The 2016 election, in contrast, was an effort by members of already dominant groups to assure their continued dominance and by those in an already powerful and wealthy country to assure its continued dominance.”
According to the University of Pennsylvania, “In much of the punditry surrounding the election, lack of a college education was noted as a strong predictor of support for Trump, and often cited as evidence that voters were responding to their own pocketbooks. Education, Mutz explains, is also the strongest predictor of support for international trade. Negative attitudes toward racial and ethnic diversity, she points out, are also correlated with low levels of education. Once attitudes toward racial diversity and the perceived threats posed by globalization are taken into account, education no longer matters.”
“The 2016 election was a result of anxiety about dominant groups’ future status rather than a result of being overlooked in the past,” Mutz explained. “In many ways, a sense of group threat is a much tougher opponent than an economic downturn, because it is a psychological mindset rather than an actual event or misfortune. Given current demographic trends within the United States, minority influence will only increase with time, thus heightening this source of perceived status threat.”
You can read the study here.