Quantcast
Connect with us

Sociologists blow up the myth that uneducated white voters support Trump because of economic anxiety

Published

on

- Commentary

Despite all of the disproved narratives about the “white working class,” it has been repeatedly and conclusively shown that Donald Trump in fact won the White House because of racism and nativism. But sexism was a key element in Trump’s victory as well. These values, beliefs, and behaviors interact with one another. New research by University of Kansas sociologists David Smith and Eric Hanley demonstrates how a socially combustible mix of racism and sexism, in combination with anger and bullying, put the United States on a path to authoritarianism.

Writing in “The Anger Games: Who Voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 Election, and Why?”, which appeared in a recent issue of the journal Critical Sociology, Smith and Hanley summarize their new research:

We find that Trump’s supporters voted for him mainly because they share his prejudices, not because they’re financially stressed. It’s true, as exit polls showed, that voters without four-year college degrees were likelier than average to support Trump. But millions of these voters — who are often stereotyped as “the white working class” — opposed Trump because they oppose his prejudices. These prejudices, meanwhile, have a definite structure, which we argue should be called authoritarian: negatively, they target minorities and women; and positively, they favor domineering and intolerant leaders who are uninhibited about their biases.

Furthermore, the authors report, what unified Trump’s voters was not “economic anxiety” but prejudice and intolerance. What they define as authoritarian views were “strongly associated with support for Donald Trump.” Political polarization, although it definitely exists, is not strictly a “class phenomenon,” in their view. Trump voters came “from many strata and milieus” and “the effects of class are mediated … through biases and other attitudes.” They continue:

Trump’s white base is more readily found among voters who want domineering and intolerant leaders than among voters of any particular class background. Whether rich or poor, young or old, male or female, college or non-college educated, white voters supported Trump in 2016 when they shared his prejudices, and very seldom otherwise. … The decisive reason that white, male, older and less educated voters were disproportionately pro-Trump is that they shared his prejudices and wanted domineering, aggressive leaders more often than other voters did.

Smith and Hanley identified eight attitudes that interacted with each other and strongly predicted support for Trump: identifying as conservative; support for a “domineering” leader; Christian fundamentalism, prejudice against immigrants, African-Americans, Muslims and women; and “pessimism about the economy.” then demonstrate how racism and sexism reinforce each other:

ADVERTISEMENT

Overall, what we see is that a spectrum of attitudes inspired pro-Trump voting, and that many of these attitudes are particularly common among older, less educated, and male voters. Central among these attitudes is the wish for domineering presidential action against line-cutters and rotten apples.

Smith and Hanley conclude with a warning for liberals and others who believe that Trump’s supporters are likely to abandon him, disillusioned by his failed promises to improve their lives:

Most Trump voters cast their ballots for him with their eyes open, not despite his prejudices but because of them. Their partisanship, whether positive (toward Trump and the Republicans) or negative (against Clinton and the Democrats), is intense.

ADVERTISEMENT

This partisanship is anchored in anger and resentment among mild as well as strong Trump voters. Anger, not fear, was the emotional key to the Tea Party, and that seems to be true for Trumpism as well. If so, the challenge for progressives is greater than many people have imagined. Hostility to minorities and women cannot be wished away; nor can the wish for domineering leaders. The anger games are far from over.

I recently spoke with David Smith about this new research, Trump’s enduring support, authoritarianism and the role of “hostile sexism” in the controversy surrounding Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Given your research and other scholarship and intuitions, how do you explain how Donald Trump was able to win the 2016 presidential election?

ADVERTISEMENT

Hostility to immigrants and the wish for an intolerant leader grew sharply among right-leaning white voters after 2012. Those feelings merged in 2016 with a raft of resentments – towards minorities, women, Muslims and liberals – and the result was Donald Trump’s presidency.

Trump himself, like every alert demagogue, picks up signals from his audience and then tells them what they want to hear. He was the first candidate to beat the anti-immigrant drums, and when that worked for him, he courted voters who had previously backed the other Republican candidates. That worked too – mainly because, as it turned out, those voters also wanted a domineering and intolerant leader.

One of the dominant narratives was that the 2016 election was a story about “economic anxiety.” Given that more and more empirical, statistical and experimental work shows that to be incorrect, why does that narrative still linger?

That’s a critical point. A great deal of research, including ours, shows that personal financial worries did not distinguish Trump voters from others. All voters, across the spectrum, expressed similar pocketbook anxieties, so anxiety isn’t what defined Trump voters in particular.

ADVERTISEMENT

It’s also relevant to note that Trump’s base was more insulated from global competition than the rest of the electorate, despite what people often guess about this. So your question is fundamental: Why does the anxiety myth linger, despite evidence to the contrary?

One key reason, I think, is that many liberals are reluctant to believe that large numbers of people are as mean-spirited as their words and actions might suggest. They want to think that fear, not vindictiveness, drives support for vindictive rhetoric and policy. That’s generous, but I think it’s also a special kind of blindness.

In fact, we seem to have two opposite forms of emotional blindness. Many liberals can’t believe that large numbers of people are vindictive while many conservatives scoff at the idea that liberals are not vindictive. Liberals often make excuses for people who show signs of intolerance. Right-wingers, in contrast, often laugh at claims to “feel your pain.”

ADVERTISEMENT

These attitudes shouldn’t be ignored. Right-wingers who hate liberals are problematic, and liberals whose reflex is to forgive them are problematic too.

Bullies have to be resisted; they can’t be appeased. So we need to know how to recognize them, and the election gives us a few hints. It turns out that, though some Trump voters disliked his harsh rhetoric – particularly those who had preferred [Ohio Gov. John] Kasich in the primaries – the large majority of those voters still pulled the lever for him, and most of them supported him after the election as well.

In “The Anger Games,” Eric Hanley and I analyzed 17 variables from the 2016 American National Election Study. We found that 73.1 percent of Trump voters called themselves his “strong” supporters. You might think that Trump voters who didn’t identify as strong supporters would be more relaxed, more tolerant. But actually they were just a little less biased than his ardent supporters, and they were nearly as eager to have a domineering leader.

ADVERTISEMENT

The bottom line is that bullying rhetoric won tens of millions of white votes in 2016. That, not financial worry, is the reality we face. We can’t explain away the fact that, after nearly two years of insults and abuses – children in cages, excuses for white supremacists, the Muslim travel ban and so much more – nearly 90 percent of Republicans support Donald Trump.

What about the related narrative of the “white working class”? That seems to have just as much traction as the economic anxiety narrative.

I see that as another aspect of what I was describing above, which I call “liberal denial.” Liberals in denial know that bullying happens. They see jeering and bad behavior, but they interpret it as a sign of immaturity, not meanness. They think that people misbehave mainly when they’re afraid or confused; that they lash out when they’re misinformed about the real cause of their troubles. So the liberal solution is education. Give people who talk like angry bigots the facts, they think – show them that their fears and hostilities are misplaced – and they’ll change their ways.

ADVERTISEMENT

In my opinion that’s very rarely true. But the liberal belief in the redeeming power of facts is powerful – and that connects directly to the narrative of the “white working class.” What journalists and academics generally mean by that phrase is very simply “white Americans without college degrees.” The fact that a substantial percentage of white people without BAs aren’t wage earners (millions of them own small businesses, are self-employed, retired, disabled, etc.) doesn’t diminish the popularity of that phrase. What matters most, in liberal discourse, is education.

For educated liberals, it’s reassuring to think that white voters who pulled the lever for Donald Trump were simply making a mistake, and that they would have done better if they had better understood their own interests. The implication is that, if liberals do their job properly, the less educated will be better educated in the future. Once they learn a few basic lessons, they’ll make better decisions.

This paternalism – I can’t see another good word for it – irritates Trump’s troops and aggravates their hatred for “cultural elites” and “political correctness.” Trump himself, meanwhile, has reasons of his own to brand his base as “working class.” He’s praising his white loyalists as makers, not takers; workers, not shirkers; and just below the surface of that praise we can easily detect many lurking stereotypes.

In other words, the main dividing line isn’t education or age or marriage, but prejudice. Millions of people in every category who shared Trump’s biases voted for him; and yet, at the same time, millions of other white voters, in every category – less educated, more educated; male, female; younger, older – voted against him because they disagreed with him.

ADVERTISEMENT

We know that racism and sexism interact in terms of values and attitudes. How did Trump’s election and his support more generally reflect “hostile sexism”? What is this concept and how does it manifest itself in terms of politics?

The American National Election Study [ANES] often tests new variables. Until 2016, prejudices against women were tested with five “modern sexism” items. But in 2016 four new items were added from the “hostile sexism” scale. That was a big step forward, since our analysis shows that seven of those nine items combine to explain a lot of Trump’s appeal.

Voters who endorsed those items agree that “when women complain about discrimination they often cause more problems than they solve”; that “the news media should pay less attention to discrimination against women”; that “many women interpret innocent remarks or acts as sexist”; and that “women seek to gain power by getting control over men.”

What does this tell us? That most Trump voters doubt, downplay and resent charges of discrimination against women, and that (as researchers have often shown in the 20-plus years since those scales were introduced) hostility towards independent women remains powerful.

ADVERTISEMENT

That finding, combined with the results of two other new scales, testifies to the depth of resentment among white Republican voters. One of those new scales asked white voters whether they see themselves as victims of racial discrimination; the other, which Eric and I proposed, asked voters whether they want an intolerant leader who will “get rid of the rotten apples who are ruining everything.”

Independent women who resist discrimination, like immigrants and Muslims, figure prominently among those “rotten apples.”

The indifference many Republicans have shown towards Trump’s admitted sexual assaults and towards the many women who say he sexually abused or harassed them resonates in this context. That seems especially pertinent now that his nominee to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, has been accused of attempted rape, and has been defended by many Republicans even before they’ve heard from his accuser. Does that sound like hostile sexism?

ADVERTISEMENT

Absolutely. It’s a chemically pure example, straight from the textbooks. Senate Republicans seem to be rushing to injustice, eager to assume that charges of discrimination – and much, much worse – are either obviously wrong or trivial. Ordinary considerations of due process are being given short shrift, so determined are [Sen. Chuck] Grassley and others to get their man into a position of authority. That would be worrisome at any time, but it’s especially alarming given Kavanaugh’s historically negative views concerning women’s right to choose.

The word “hostile” is not in any way overblown in this context. The items that Eric and I contributed to the election study — about crushing evil and getting rid of rotten apples — originated in a scale which, in the past, has often been used in conjunction with scales probing attitudes towards women. Suffice to say that those items are regularly strongly associated with scales measuring hostility toward women, “rape myth” acceptance, acceptance of interpersonal violence, adversarial sexual beliefs and more.

How are racism, sexism and authoritarianism connected?

I see the desire for an intolerant leader is a kind of prejudice in itself. People who resent women or minorities or liberals want authorities who share and act on that resentment. So the wish for an authoritarian leader is, in a way, an extension of ethnic and other prejudices. And the other side of the authoritarian coin is scorn for – prejudice against – inclusive and caring leaders who appear to side with the poor and vulnerable.

Sexism and social dominance behavior are also closely connected for Trump’s voters. How does your work speak to this?

In 2012 the American National Election Study included items from the “Social Dominance Orientation” (SDO) scale which Eric Hanley and I had urged them to use. Those items, which tap anti-egalitarian prejudices, proved to be powerfully predictive of racial bias and homophobia. But unfortunately those items were not included in the 2016 election study. So our best evidence on that subject – reported by Jake Womick, Diana Mutz and others – comes from other sources. That evidence confirms that SDO remained alive and well in 2016, as in 2012.

Another narrative, and one that frustrates me greatly, is that Trump is “losing supporters” or will inevitably become “less popular.” Trump represents a deep cultural problem of racism, sexism, nativism and authoritarianism. He is a symptom, not the cause, of the disease. There may be some fluctuation, but once the 2020 presidential election approaches Trump’s support will harden. I believe he will win re-election if current trends continue. Do you see any grounds for hopefulness?

I share your frustrations, which I’ve felt ever since I began studying intolerance long ago. At times, it has felt as if the denial of authoritarian hatred was epidemic and invincible. But lately, due to the extremity of the times, many people are beginning to see past that denial. The wish, the instinct, to reduce hatred to anxiety is strong – but it no longer feels invincible. So I’m beginning to see the glass as half full. Arguments like yours and mine now have an interested and growing audience, and many serious people are carrying out good research focusing on the role of hatred in this political moment. That wasn’t always the case. So I’m beginning to feel hopeful – not, of course, about Trumpism, but about the response and resistance that Trumpism is spurring.

 


Report typos and corrections to [email protected].

Send confidential news tips to [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

Joy Reid says Trump ‘pulled a full Charlottesville’ by ‘fanning the flames’ of racism and ethno-nationalism

Published

on

MSNBC anchor Joy Reid blasted President Donald Trump's racism during her opening segment while hosting "The Last Word" on MSNBC on Friday.

"That didn’t last long. Having read the talking points crammed into his hands by nervous Republicans for almost an entire day, Donald Trump pulled a full Charlottesville, praising his supporters who chanted 'Send Her Back' to attack Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) at his North Carolina campaign rally as 'incredible patriots,'" Reid reported.

"Yep, 24-hours-ago, Trump -- per those nervous Republican talking points -- claimed that he disapproved of the racist chant about congresswoman Omar and even tried to stop it," she said. "He got nice headlines that claiming he was disavowing the chant from some of the news media who indulged in the false balance tick of pretending whatever the president said is true and it’s a given fact."

Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

Maddow revolted by child sex trafficking charges against Trump pal George Nader: ‘None of this is normal’

Published

on

MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow connected the dots between the President Donald Trump's administration and George Nader, who served time for child pornography prior to Trump's 2016 campaign and has subsequently been arrested on child sex trafficking charges.

"In what is an astonishingly scandal-ridden presidency, populated by an astonishingly strange cast of characters, he remains one of the most unsettling figures in all of Trump world. Again, to be clear, to disambiguate here, we are not talking about Jeffrey Epstein, seen here with the president, who is also now in custody awaiting child sex trafficking charges," Maddow explained. "No, this is a whole different guy who you can see in this picture with the president who is now in federal custody awaiting a different set of sex trafficking charges as well as serious child porn charges and not for the first time."

Continue Reading
 

Breaking Banner

Fox News hires former Trump spokesman as Senior Vice President: report

Published

on

The revolving door between the White House and Fox News was spinning on Friday as a former spokesman for President Donald Trump was hired by Fox News.

"A bit of news: Raj Shah, the former spokesman in the White House, is joining Fox as a senior Vice President," Washington Post White House correspondent Josh Dawsey reported on Friday.

https://twitter.com/jdawsey1/status/1152374273522241537

After Hope Hicks left her job as White House communications director, she was hired to lead corporate communications for New Fox, the parent company of Fox News.

Continue Reading
 
 
 

Copyright © 2019 Raw Story Media, Inc. PO Box 21050, Washington, D.C. 20009 | Masthead | Privacy Policy | For corrections or concerns, please email [email protected]

Join Me. Try Raw Story Investigates for $1. Invest in Journalism. Escape Ads.
close-image