Salient Economic Characteristics of the Counties that Flipped to Trump, Sorted by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

It seems that the Democrats have decided they need some sort of economic message[1] in 2018 after all:

This is great news, because it means we can, finally, put Yglesias’s[2] viral and knowingly ironic “economic anxiety” meme to rest. James Kwak gives the origin story in 2016 (“A Cute Joke Gone Too Far“):

For weeks now, Vox columnist Matt Yglesias has been mocking the idea that “economic anxiety” is a substantial factor in the Rise of Trump. Here’s one of dozens of examples:

It’s understandable where this particularly highbrow putdown (also used by other twitterers) came from. Belittling the economic anxiety explanation has two understandable if not entirely pure motivations. One is the idea that chalking up Trump’s success to economic factors minimizes the central role of racism in his campaign; pointing out other reasons people might have for voting Trump distracts from the main issue or can even be seen (in an illogical sort of way) as an apology for Trump’s racism. The second motivation is that, since Hillary Clinton decided to run on the poorly worded “America is already great” theme, talking about economic insecurity only plays into the hands of the enemy; instead, we should just pretend everything is hunky-dory. (Yglesias does not share this second motivation.) But to many people, including me, it seems bizarre to insist that economic anxiety has nothing to do with Trump’s success, and much simpler to simply acknowledge that some of his voters are racists, some are worried about their economic prospects, and some are both.

Today, instead of letting the by-now-stale joke simply fade away, Yglesias decided to double down with a column arguing that Trump is all about “white grievance politics,” not economic anxiety.

(For whatever reason, all the examples I can find of ‘@mattyglesias “economic anxiety”‘ using Twitter search come up “This Tweet is unavailable,” and I’m not blocked. The Tweet to which Kwak links doesn’t exist, now, either. Odd.) Anyhow, we can inter Matt’s meme because Democrats seem to have decided that voters have something to be anxious about. After all, the Pelosi and Co. are now making economic promises like “better jobs” and “better wages,” that implies that wages and jobs aren’t all that they could be, right?[2]

So I’m going to help the Democrats out with their messaging, working on two assumptions: First, that Democrats wish to address or at least appear to address “economic anxiety” programatically; and second, that Democrats plan to appeal to at least some working class (i.e., waged) Trump voters, especially those who gave Trump the victory by flipping from Obama (which Democrats must do because the electoral college is deeply unfair, or because of gerrymandering, or just possibly because flipping suburban Republicans from Trump isn’t the slam dunk Chuck Schumer thought it would be). I’m going to help them out by citing tod all the economic anxieties I can find that make Trump voters distinctive, and I’m going to throw the into the buckets of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

(None of this shows causality, of course, but I think the aggregation is impressive, and we may address causality at a later date.) I don’t claim to have found every salient characteristic, and I welcome further contributions from readers. However, I’ve been collecting these links for some time, and I do try to keep track.)

Safety: Financial Insecurity

Gallup, “Financial Insecurity Higher for Those Who Favor Trump,” October 10, 2016:

Americans who view Trump favorably are significantly more likely than other Americans to report feeling financially insecure. The large gap in financial insecurity persists even after controlling for income, education, occupation, party affiliation and various other measures of objective economic circumstances…. those with a favorable opinion of Trump are 23 percentage points more likely to say they are not feeling better about their financial situation these days, 17 points more likely to say they do not feel good about the amount of money they have to spend and 13 points more likely to say they are cutting back on spending…. Republicans and conservatives have reported higher levels of financial insecurity than Democrats and liberals since at least 2013, but these party and ideological differences do not account for the gap in financial insecurity between those who do and do not favor Trump. Republicans who view Trump favorably are still more likely to express economic insecurity on each item than Republicans who view him unfavorably.

(Parodoxically, those with high credit ratings also favor Trump; see here for the county analysis. I would go so far as to speculate that Trump voters high credit scores were Trump’s base; and those in financial distress were Trump’s margin — the voters who flipped from Obama.[3]) I’m filing this under “Safety” because if you’re being hounded by debt collectors you’re not safe.)

Physiological: Battlefield Casualties

Douglas L. Kriner and Francis X. Shen, “Battlefield Casualties and Ballot Box Defeat: Did the Bush-Obama Wars Cost Clinton the White House?”, SSRN, June 2017:

there is a significant and meaningful relationship between a community’s rate of military sacrifice and its support for Trump. Our statistical model suggests that if three states key to Trump’s victory – Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin – had suffered even a modestly lower casualty rate, all three could have flipped from red to blue and sent Hillary Clinton to the White House… With so much post-election analysis, it is surprising that no one has pointed to the possibility that inequalities in wartime sacrifice might have tipped the election. Put simply: perhaps the small slice of America that is fighting and dying for the nation’s security is tired of its political leaders ignoring this disproportionate burden

Odd that “responsibility to protect” only starts at the water’s edge…

Physiological: Public Health

From Jason H. Wasfy , Charles Stewart III, Vijeta Bhambhani, “County community health associations of net voting shift in the 2016 U.S. presidential election,” PLOS One, October 2, 2017:

We have shown here that poor public health is associated with an aggregate shift towards voting Republican in 2016 compared with 2012. In particular, there was a statistically significant association between this voting trend and nearly every examined measure of public health. These results are important for several reasons. This election was marked by substantial relative differences in party voting. In some cases, states that had traditionally supported Republican presidential candidates shifted away from the Republican nominee while states that had traditionally supported democratic presidential candidates shifted towards the Republican nominee. These shifts realigned [hmm] patterns of party voting. Our results here suggest that aggregate health status was associated with these shifts in voting behavior between 2012 and 2016.

We have also demonstrated that this association of net voting shift with health status was stronger in states that changed political parties from 2012 to 2016. The association of net voting shift per unit of the unhealthy score was 5.9% greater in Iowa, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Florida, and the 2nd Congressional District of Maine than in states that did not shift Electoral College delegates from 2012 to 2016. In that context, although our results cannot demonstrate causality, our results suggest a possible role of public health in determining the ultimate outcome of the overall election.

In other words, poor public health was not only associated with voting for Trump, but with flipping to Trump.)

Physiological: Life Expectancy

Jacob Bor, “Diverging Life Expectancies and Voting Patterns in the 2016 US Presidential Election,” American Journal of Public Health, October 2017:

Voters in counties in which life expectancy stagnated or declined between 1980 and 2014 were much more likely to vote for Trump… Nationally, life expectancy increased by 5.3 years during this period. In counties with below-average gains in life expectancy, a majority of voters chose Trump; in counties with above-average gains in life expectancy, most voters chose Hillary Clinton.

Ironically, then, liberal Democrats didn’t need to call for the working class people who voted for Trump to die; they already were!

Physiological: Opiods

Michal Kranz and Skye Gould, “These maps show that counties where opioid deaths and prescription rates are highest are also places where Trump won big in 2016“, Business Insider, November 2017:

Out of all the counties for which opioid overdose death data has been compiled by the CDC, there are 82 outlier counties where 15 people or more died per 100,000 people. Of these 82 counties, 77 voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential election, according to voting data. With several exceptions, the majority of these outlying counties lie in Appalachia or the rural West…. Historian Kathleen Frydl’s research shows an even more striking trend. She noticed that many typically Democratic counties that were particularly heavily affected by the opioid crisis went red on election night. She named this segment of the population the “oxy electorate.”

(The connection to Case-Deaton’s work should be obvious to readers; see here for one approach.)

The Entire Hierarchy: Well-Being

Jeph Herrin , Dan Witters, Brita Roy, Carley Riley, Diana Liu, and Harlan M. Krumholz, “Population well-being and electoral shifts,” PLOS One, March 2018:

Population well-being, an aggregate measure of positive mental, physical, and emotional health, has previously been used as a marker of community thriving. We examined whether several community measures of wellbeing, and their change since 2012, could be used to understand electoral changes that led to the outcome of the 2016 United States presidential election. We found that areas of the US which had the largest shifts away from the incumbent party had both lower wellbeing and greater drops in wellbeing when compared with areas that did not shift. In comparison, changes in income were not related to voting shifts. Well-being may be more useful in predicting and understanding electoral outcomes than some more conventional voting determinants.

Change versus more of the same, eh?


Of course, there are other factors behind Trump’s victory, very much including geography (the rural/urban/suburban divide) and racism. However, my goal is provide Democrats with economic talking points. If (with Google) we define economics as:

The condition of a region or group as regards material prosperity.

Then every single one of those items above is an economic issue. What, after all, is more material, or less conducive to prosperity, than falling life expectancy or losing a family member to opioids? Or in a useless war? What is less conducive to well-being? It seems to me that when enormous organic damage is inflicted on a population, the effects can only be political, as we see in the rise of Hitler after the slaughter of millions in the trenches of World War I (or, conversely, the establishment of the NHS after the loss of millions in World War II). It boggles the mind that liberal Democrat apparatchiks and their tame stenographers have been systematically suppressing discussion of economic issues and policies since 2016, and I can only welcome the leadership’s new embrace of the topic, however tepid. In any case, it now behooves them to explain how A Better Deal addresses the pain points listed above, concretely. (This applies especially to the competition specialists behind the Deal.) These are all, quite literally, issues of life and death.


[1] To be fair, “A Better Deal” is only Pelosi (and Schumer); elsewhere in the Democrat universe of discourse corruption and (amazingly enough) the jobs guarantee are also candidates for messaging (although people like Larry Summers are already rushing in with targeted subsidy schemes that are not universal).

[2] Brian Beutler claims to have invented the phrase; but Yglesias propagated it assiduously, and the knowing still tag him with it.

[3] Making the Clintonite strategy of flipping the Republican base, not Trump’s margin, all the more novel.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Whoa Molly!

    Re: Salient Economic Characteristics of the Counties that Flipped to Trump, Sorted by Maslow’s hierarchy of Needs

    Superb analysis. Thanks. Corresponds with the reality of daily life as observed in my semi-rural Northern California community.


    The factor that has to be considered here other than the mythical (in the mythos sense, not the false one) Trump voter are the people who didn’t come out to vote. Voter share was down in 2016 as compared to 2008, so it behooves us to suss out the demographics and material conditions of the non-voters as well.

    1. sd

      Actually, they did vote. They chose none of the above. Neither legacy party candidate had anything to offer them and voting third party was just a waste of their time.

      1. Pym of Nantucket

        Yes. The false dichotomy is a wonderful tool for oligarchs to exploit to simulate choice. Expecting change to result from a system which has been completely compromised by extreme wealth is the height of fantasy. The accepted label of Trump as an outsider is simply another cruel satire of politics in these times. I don’t see revolution anywhere around the corner myself, so sadly I’m not holding my breath for improvement. Sorry for the pessimism on this issue.

  3. Mark Gisleson

    Thank you. As a lifelong resident of Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, this directly speaks to the realities in those states. Your chart is excellent.

  4. JBird

    All of these factors have been in existence and growing for at least forty years; both parties have baiting and switching most Americans. Promising to solve or at least ameliorate the problems but leaving most people in most places worse off, and this has been happening at all levels of government from the Presidency to village dog catcher.

    To not see this requires actively seeking to not see. I can see disagreement on the extent, causes, and solutions, but no, I am increasingly coming to think that not seeing the increasing Banana Republic like nature of our country is a deliberate act. Of course, such is the size of ongoing collapse, one might have to change their actions if they acknowledged it. They might lose their sinecure or hurt their brains with the effort of actual thinking.

  5. XXYY

    I have a “process” comment for NC. You guys make copious use of excerpts and quotes from other sources in your posts, often several levels deep (i.e., the quoted passage contains a quoted passage, etc.). This is a great and useful device.

    However, the indenting used to format a long quote is so slight (one space?) that it’s often unclear whose words I am reading, as in the piece above. Perhaps this has browser dependencies, I don’t know.

    My request: Could you update your site’s formatting so that the extent of quoted material is more obvious? Maybe this is just a matter of a bigger indent, or maybe a different font or color would help.

    Please take this modest suggestion in the helpful spirit it’s intended in!

    1. Mark Gisleson

      General pet peeve that almost everyone who aggregates is guilty of: Long excerpts that do not fully identify individuals referred to, e.g., “Then Smith bludgeoned the Ambassador from Belarus with a salad fork.”

      When I used to do this kind of stuff (for a much, much smaller audience), I always made use of brackets to save most readers a click. “Then [State Dept. Undersecretary Richard] Smith bludgeoned….”

      This also, of course, provides opportunities for editorial mischief, another reason I recommend it.

  6. XXYY

    One of your best and most original posts of the year.

    It’s amazing how the economic well being of the population isn’t the starting point for *every* piece of electoral analysis and *every* item of campaign strategy. Instead, we get far-fetched and precious manifestos about how people are voting based on penis-shaped cakes, gunz, freedom, and so on. These latter things are not entirely irrelevant, but are certainly second-order factors.

    A shorter version of this piece is “pissed-off and suffering people vote for the outsider who claims he or she will make things better.” The corrupt and disliked insider who says things are already great? Not so much.

    The present situation presents a yoooge organizing opportunity for any political group or party that can manage to see what’s right in front of their face. Obviously that was the national socialists in Germany in the 30s. The Dems are not only foolish for ignoring the situation from the perspective of their own self interest, but are also putting the country and its people at some risk by leaving the field open for whatever dangerous person or group might occupy it. (We are so very fortunate that Trump is an incompetent and self-involved buffoon rather than someone with great political and rhetorical skill who could instill broad allegiance; we may not be this lucky next time.)

    1. jsn

      Our elite has been habituated to look at the population as a natural resource that is valuable only to the extent monetary extraction is possible. If you can’t offer them a revenue stream, go die.

  7. JP

    We have shown here that poor public health is associated with an aggregate shift towards voting Republican in 2016 compared with 2012.

    Taken at face value, this means that Republicans do well after pushing poor public health policies, just like what happened when they tried so many times to quash Obamacare, as terrible as it is. The question then becomes why would a political party benefit from delivering bad results — after all, people aren’t that stupid. One possible reason: TINA. There’s only one other party in this country, and they are seen as worse than the R’s on many issues in Maslow’s pyramid, as has been documented here on NC often. I personally think Trump won the election because, I think it was the final debate (my memory is hazy), he said, ‘People are hurting. That’s gonna stop.’ I had a ‘wow, maybe this guy’s not a complete doofus’ moment (he still didn’t get my vote). Whereas Clinton’s message was, ‘Everything is fine.’ dog_at_coffee_table_room_burning.jpg

    1. JBird

      Different groups have different ideas of what is socially important after the basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter; both parties have been pandering to different sets of beliefs conveniently labeled liberal and conservative while using the pandering to distract voters from the transfer of wealth from the 90% through the 10% to be accumulated in top 10% especially the top 0.01%.

      If you are going to get robbed no matter who you vote for, you mights as well vote for the weasel who at least says he is going to support your values, if not your pocketbook. The only thing is, is that almost everyone, somewhere in their gut, can feel the poverty train coming for them or someone they like. So really, what’s the point of voting for the usual con artists? That is the reason for Sanders and Trump.

    2. John k

      Maybe they bought the lie about hope and change, lost hope after no useful change, decided to switch to the other side when she promised more of the same.
      But this implies voters disappointed with trump will switch to the next person promising change.
      They gave big o 8 years to give them something useful, and still liked his lying tongue when he rode off to his various and considerable rewards. Hillary honestly showed where her interests and loyalties lay… Biden wouldn’t make those mistakes, but not clear that Biden riding the better deal sounds like real concrete benefits to somebody that lost a loved one in ME, or locally to oxy, or lost their home on account of medical bills.
      Dem elites would love to promise m4a, but they love the income stream more. They’ll stay with ‘we’re not trump’ and pretend this will bring moderate reps, while fighting Bernie tooth and nail which means keeping supers while preventing indies (majority party) from voting in their primaries.

    3. Ape

      Easy – promise whites that they can steal from others to improve their standard of living. When that’s your best option a large percentage of the white population will take it.

  8. Lee

    The first chapter of Transcendentalist Thoreau’s Walden is “Economy.” While it is true that he was not in fact dependent upon growing his own beans for food, he does so and makes the down to earth point that the aesthetic, intellectual, spiritual life cannot be attained on an empty stomach. A conclusion previously reached, the hard way, by the Buddha.

  9. Rosario

    Good points, I’ll add that 44% of the voting eligible population did not cast a ballot.

    In a nasty presidential election where, apparently, the stakes were so high, 44% of the voting eligible population not voting says a hell of a lot more to me than the “critical” turncoat Trump voters.

    I mean, I know they matter by way of realpolitik, but Jesus, 44%! We are talking nearly half the eligible population saying hell no to the whole thing, and I don’t buy the “apathy” diagnosis. If there is stink, there is rot.

    1. flora

      Yep. Also, (since someone is bound to bring it up), there has been concerted GOP effort to suppress the vote of blacks and marginalized groups. But the Dem estab has done nothing I can see to push back against this suppression and get people who wanted to vote registered to vote and to the polls.

  10. audrey jr

    Thanks for this post, Lambert.
    I have worked in healthcare off and on for decades in medical front office and E.R. secretary positions.
    Obama Care, with its high annual deductibles and no real coverage for those who can afford only the ‘silver’ plans, is literally bankrupting a whole lot of folks. I know this because I take money from these folks everyday and it pains me greatly to do so.
    Unless and until the Dem’s change back into a party of and for the working class – I’m not holding my breath, I don’t know about you – things will continue to become more bleak for all of us plebes.
    It is truly mind boggling to me just how deeply out of touch our CONgresscritters and their handlers are with the average American.
    But that’s what the “Citizen’s United” decision was designed to do.
    We all need to Rage Against the Machine as loudly and as often as we can.

  11. marym

    (Apologies if this is a duplicate comment)

    So far Trump hasn’t proposed or advocated for any policy that delivers material benefit to any non-wealthy demographic as far as the first two layers. The virulent racism and xenophobia continue. His approval rating has remained steady for about a year.

    Here’s a question: do the racism, harsh policing, and other authoritarian policies directed at others contribute to a psychological sense of safety for his supporters, even though theres no evidence that they’re materially any safer?

    So we’ll see what happens. In the meantime, in deference to your analysis, I’ll avoid the “economic anxiety” meme in my comments on the racism side of the picture.

  12. Eureka Springs

    If Dems were to take lamberts fine work to their dark little hearts it will be for the purpose of messaging only. Why oh why help them con you or other people? Why talk to them as if that party is worth anything other utter annihilation? It’s corrupt and anti democratic, anti-representative at its core.

    These people won’t even demand unanimity among their selves in voting/saying NO to torture. It’s no wonder they deny health care to millions while sucking the life/$ force out of millions more in the highest grift the world has ever known. They enjoy doing these things! Any entity/party/group of people/individual which wont stop torturing or denying health care at the best prices in the world… that is a clear and ever present danger unworthy of anything but contempt and abandonment at the very least.

    1. flora

      Please make the argument. I’m not familiar with it. Are you referencing MLK’s planned multi-racial poor peoples march on D.C. ? If so, was the anxiety a phenomenon of a specific racial angst or of the govt fearing to be held to account by poor people of all races?

  13. Swamp Yankee

    You know, when you see someone like Yglesias — whom I seem to remember, back in the original days of progressive blogging, there being something about having a trust fund — graduate of elite Manhattan prep school, son of a novelist, Harvard grad, never had a job beyond blogging/bloviating sneering at the suffering of the proles, you begin to understand how revolutions happen.

  14. precariat

    A very good overview of the precarity of a large part of America. But the Democrats are the last institutional group to embrace this analysis and incorporate it. Their investment is in a neoliberalism. Every piece cited here indicts the Democrats and their abandonment of their constituents since at least 1992. However for the growing (?) group of people who see the charade that the two party system has become, an acknowledgement of the ecomomic, socal and cultural pain Americans are in — as a result of deliberate policy — is a good starting point for a new approach.

  15. sharonsj

    “Iowa, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Florida, and the 2nd Congressional District of Maine” and “opioid deaths and prescription rates” struck me. Here in rural Pennsylvania, decent jobs with good benefits are scarce, people can’t afford health care or dental work, we have a higher elderly population who are on lots of drugs, and I personally know a lot of addicts. And almost everybody is a Republican.

    And to JP, who wonders if people are that stupid: Yes, they are. P.S. I had to look up the meaning of TINA, but I think that’s a symptom, not a cause.

  16. Newton Finn

    Watch this entertaining, informative video by Bernie’s former econ advisor, and the new economic message that should be brought to America by progressive Democrats becomes crystal clear, as clear as fresh water in a bathtub. Here’s how we pay for guaranteed jobs, universal health care, environmental restoration, forgiveness of student loans, etc. etc. etc.

  17. thump

    I also seem to recall correlation between counties that flipped to Trump and high foreclosure rates, but I cannot find a link in a quick search.

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