Jed Kelko, in a 538 post titled “Trump Was Stronger Where The Economy Is Weaker”:
For the most part, Trump did better in places that typically vote Republican — there is a strong correlation between how Trump performed in 2016 and how Mitt Romney performed four years earlier.4 So if routine jobs tend to be concentrated in Republican-leaning areas — as I found a few months ago — that doesn’t necessarily reveal much about whether economic anxiety fueled Trump’s support, in particular.
Instead, to understand what drove Trump’s victory, we can look at how Trump’s margin against Clinton in 2016 compared with Romney’s against President Obama in 2012. Sure enough, the swing toward Trump was much stronger in counties with a higher share of routine jobs; the swing toward Trump was also stronger where unemployment was higher, job growth was slower and earnings were lower.5
Demographic factors such as age, race and immigrant share also correlate with the swing toward Trump, although among these only age correlates as strongly as routine job share. However, it’s nearly impossible to disentangle economic factors from other explanations for Trump’s victory because demographic characteristics and economic conditions are themselves related: Counties with older populations tend to have higher unemployment, slower job growth and a higher routine-job share. And some measures are clearly intertwined with both economic and social issues. For instance, counties where more adults are college educated have dramatically higher earnings and a lower routine-job share, but also lots of other favorable social, health and economic outcomes.
Still, it is clear that the places that voted for Trump are under greater economic stress, and the places that swung most toward Trump are those where jobs are most under threat. Importantly, Trump’s appeal was strongest in places where people are most concerned about what the future will mean for their jobs, even if those aren’t the places where economic conditions are worst today.
I have seen a number of people today linking to and referencing this post and others like it as a refutation of the claim that the Trump campaign and his election win on Tuesday represent primarily economic concerns.
It does no such thing.
Kelko’s point is well-taken that pollsters and prognosticators would have done well to dig deeper into the polling data, rather than just looking at the surface features. But then, so is his statement that “it’s nearly impossible to disentangle economic factors from other explanations for Trump’s victory because demographic characteristics and economic conditions are themselves related.”
Yes, economics was a factor, but nothing in this data suggests that it was the only one, or even necessarily the primary one. Maybe every Trump voter didn’t walk into the voting booth, think “I hate black people!” (or women, or immigrants, or LGBTQ people, or the disabled, or Jews, or Muslims) and pull the lever for Trump. What they did do was take a look at a guy who has openly and repeatedly insulted, demonized, and threatened people of color, women, Muslims, Jews, and the disabled and decide that’s all fine.
It’s about race because a whole bunch of people decided that direct and explicit threats to those who don’t look like them aren’t a big deal. It’s about misogyny because a whole bunch of people decided a long history of sexual abuse didn’t matter. It’s about xenophobia and bigotry because a whole bunch of people decided that mass deportations and religious tests are okay.
And yes, it was about economics too, but let’s not try to wave off the fact that a whole slice of the country has made a decision to deprioritize the rights and safety of millions of their fellow citizens. You don’t get to declare “Economics!” and then happily move on as though there aren’t a bunch of seething undercurrents to that decision.