The biggest myths behind Donald Trump’s win debunked

Idea of economically ‘left behind’ white voters accounting for Trump victory undermined by study

Ben Chu
Economics Editor
Thursday 10 November 2016 13:57 GMT
Trump voters aren’t ‘left behind’ but hate diversity, study says
Trump voters aren’t ‘left behind’ but hate diversity, study says (Getty)

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Louise Thomas

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White American voters did not vote for Donald Trump primarily because they were economically “left behind” by globalisation but because they are antipathetic to diversity and hostile to the way the US is changing ethnically, according to research.

The Daily Mail today said Mr Trump's victory was a "revolt by America's 'forgotten' white working class" and numerous analyses have linked his appeal to economic suffering among low-income white communities in America.

But statistical work by Eric Kaufmann, professor of politics at Birkbeck College, University of London, suggests a strong correlation between support for Mr Trump among white Americans and those who prefer values of order and stability to those of tolerance of diversity and difference.

Mr Kaufmann used a proxy question from surveys commissioned in August to determine whether respondents have such a worldview: “Is it more important for a child to be considerate or well-mannered?”

“The answers sound almost identical but social psychologists know that ‘considerate’ taps other-directed emotions while ‘well-mannered’ is about respect for authority,” said Mr Kaufmann.

The chart below shows the level of support for Mr Trump among white Americans on the vertical scale and family income on the horizontal scale.

Why Trump?

Eric Kaufmann
Eric Kaufmann

Support for Mr Trump among people who answered the question about childrens’ appropriate behaviour in both ways rises with income, but Mr Kaufmann said this rise was statistically insignificant.

The major finding, he said, was that support for Mr Trump was structurally considerably higher among those who feel that children should be "well-behaved”, an answer that indicated an order-focused world view.

“This, and not class, is what cuts the electoral pie in many western countries these days,” said Mr Kaufmann.

He added that this anti-diversity mindset, rather than economic factors, was also the primary determinant in why white British people voted for Brexit in June.

Why Brexit?

Eric Kaufmann
Eric Kaufmann

Results from a similar survey show a mild slope on the income front, with less well-off people tending to favour Brexit. But the big structural gap relates to values, with those who think children should be well-behaved rather than considerate, showing much more support for leaving the European Union.

Mr Kaufmann linked the election of Donald Trump, Brexit and also the appeal of explicitly racist right-wing populist movements in Europe to this anti-diversity mindset among the majority white populations who sense their countries are changing due to higher immigration and more liberal government policies.

“Why is Trump, Brexit, Höfer, Le Pen and Wilders happening now? Immigration and ethnic change. This is unsettling that portion of the white electorate that prefers cultural order over change,” he said.

“The Trump and Brexit votes are the opening shots which define a new political era in which the values divide between voters – especially among whites – is the main axis of politics. In a period of rapid ethnic change, this cleavage separates those who prefer cultural continuity and order from novelty-seekers open to diversity.”

Mr Kaufmann argued that focusing on the economic situation of white working-class communities as a means of addressing racist populism is a distraction.

"Policymakers and pundits should face this instead of imagining that old remedies – schools, hospitals, jobs – will put the populist genie back in the bottle," he said.

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