Donald Trump’s Victory Probably Wasn’t Uniquely Driven by Racial Resentment

German Lopez channels the conventional wisdom:

Technically, this is true. A number of different studies have shown that the strongest predictor of a vote for Donald Trump was racial resentment.

But in real-world terms these studies are meaningless. Racial resentment has been a growing predictor of votes for every Republican candidate for the past couple of decades. Donald Trump may have tried hard to move that needle, but there’s not a lot of evidence that he did. That leaves us with cruder measures that are frustratingly imprecise. Take a look at the white vote since 1992, for example:

Bill Clinton was the last Democrat to have much appeal to white voters. Since 2000, whites have ticked the box for Republicans at about the same rate in every election. Trump, in fact, did a little worse than Mitt Romney in 2012.

On the other hand, Trump did considerably better than Romney with white working-class voters. Unfortunately, this is hard to assess as well, since Republicans have been steadily increasing their share of the white working-class vote for the past five elections. As with the racial resentment correlations, the question is whether Trump helped drive this upward trend, or merely benefited from it? Since racial resentment among white men hasn’t changed much in decades, most likely it’s the result of increasing partisan polarization, something that Trump had nothing to do with.

As it happens, there is some evidence that racial resentment partially drove the results in a few specific places. The absolute numbers are small, but potentially pivotal given the oddities of the Electoral College. It’s also unquestionably true that Republicans as a whole demonstrated a surprisingly high tolerance for a candidate who was far more explicitly racist, sexist, and xenophobic than any in recent memory. That was disheartening, but it’s not evidence that racism actively drove the results of this election any more than previous ones.

Keep in mind that Trump actually did a little worse than models predicted based on fundamentals. This suggests that racism didn’t have an outsize effect in 2016. It had roughly the same dismal effect it’s always had. What’s more, if James Comey hadn’t released his infamous letter eleven days before the election, we wouldn’t even be talking about this. The fact that Comey did, in fact, release his letter, leading to Trump’s unexpected win, is hardly a good reason to not only hold this endless discussion, but to insist that it’s been settled.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate