The 2016 presidential election will go down as the election that spawned a million takes. Much of this debate centered around whether the rise of Donald Trump was primarily due to economic anxiety or whether his support was an expression of resentment of racial minority groups and immigrants.
In previous analyses of Trump’s support during the primaries, we showed that racial resentment played a larger role in the 2016 election than economic concerns. Recently released survey data from the Voter Study Group allows us to ascertain in what ways Trump’s general election support compares to previous elections. The data also give us the opportunity to focus in on those voters who switched from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016, and compare them to those voters who did not support Trump in 2016 but voted for Romney in 2012.
We find that opinions about how increasing racial diversity will affect American society had much more impact on support for Trump during the 2016 election compared to support for the Republican candidates in the two previous presidential elections. We also find that individuals with high levels of racial resentment were more likely to switch from Obama to Trump, but those with low racial resentment and more positive views about rising diversity voted for Romney but not Trump.
In short, our analysis indicates that Donald Trump successfully leveraged existing resentment towards African Americans in combination with emerging fears of increased racial diversity in America to reshape the presidential electorate, strongly attracting nativists towards Trump and pushing some more affluent and highly educated people with more cosmopolitan views to support Hillary Clinton. Racial identity and attitudes have further displaced class as the central battleground of American politics.
Fear Of The New American Electorate
Research suggests, for instance, that reminding whites who have high levels of ethnic identification about rising diversity leads them to view Trump more favorably. (This finding is supported by other similar research.) We find evidence for the idea that rising diversity helped fuel Trump’s rise in the Cooperative Congressional Analysis Project data set, a survey that interviewed respondents during both the 2012 and 2016 elections (a panel survey). Because the survey includes data on multiple elections, we can compare how views have shifted support for political candidates.