New research reveals how economic distress intertwined with social resentments to propel Trump to victory
President Donald Trump (Screenshot)

A new analysis from the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) finds that President Donald Trump achieved victory in large part by exploiting economic concerns.


The study, which analyzed survey data from the American National Election Survey in addition to data on Congressional districts, determined that economic factors were an important driver of Trump's victory, in addition to the racism, sexism and xenophobia that also marked his campaign.

The study's authors argue that although many of Trump's supporters may have been inspired by prejudice, their data analysis leads them to conclude that it's important not to downplay economic factors.

They write that fears of social change played an important part.

"Social anxieties certainly did play an important part in Trump’s victories – particularly in the 2016 Republican primaries, where many voters were indeed motivated by resentments related to race, ethnicity, immigration, and gender," the write. "Social issues were important in the general election as well. But upon careful examination of several types of data, the real picture looks considerably more complicated."

Economic issues, as is often the case, greatly impacted voters' decision to cast a ballot for Trump, despite his brand of phony populism.

"Economic factors mattered, too, at both stages. Moreover, in the general election – in contrast to the primaries – many leading social factors actually tended to hurt rather than help Trump," the note. "Furthermore, the social and economic factors were deeply intertwined with each other – as becomes apparent upon close examination of Americans’ spontaneous, open-ended comments about what they “liked” and “disliked” about the parties and candidates."

"The importance of economic factors also comes through clearly when we examine the impact of aggregate (congressional-district-level) contextual data, and when we address the crucial question of why some Americans switched from voting for Obama (or not voting) in 2012, to voting for Trump in 2016."

The paper lays out in granular detail how Trump's brand of right-wing populism—railing against immigrants and minorities while pledging fairer economic conditions—propelled him to victory in the primaries and in the general election.

The authors conclude that candidates might consider foregrounding economic issues if they want to generate broader appeal.

"Would broader economic appeals help or not? In the U.S., should the Democrats just embrace ethnic and gender diversity and count on favorable demographic trends? Or should they try to win back white working class voters through left-oriented economic policies on jobs, wages, health care and the like? Our findings suggest that the latter strategy, combined with cautious treatment of immigration and international trade, might bear some fruit."