Economic Distress Did Drive Trump’s Win

Yves here. The Institute for New Economic Thinking has published an important new paper by Thomas Ferguson, Benjamin Page, Jacob E. Rothschild, Arturo Chang, and Jie Chen on the 2016 Presidential election, seeking to understand why Trump won. The authors performed analyses on different data sources, such as surveys on voter attitudes, and the composition of districts that had a higher Trump share in 2016 than Romney got in 2012. It also has a section discussion the various political stances that the much-abused term “populism” is taken to mean, as well as a detailed discussion of what Trump said while campaigning, and where his position was consistent, versus the ones where he sent multiple messages.

Sadly, I have had time only to skim the paper, but it has lots of juicy material. For instance, a survey included a section of open-ended questions on why voters liked and disliked each party and candidate. From the paper:

Where Clinton is concerned, one issue stands out: Corruption. Fully 18% of all respondents offering any comment on Clinton (comprising 10% of the total respondent pool) mentioned this concept. Here the disjunction between explicit term and broader concept is much narrower than usual: many respondents directly employed the term itself. In a nationwide survey of diverse, disconnected respondents, we consider this 18% figure to be stunning.

And this:

The heavy weight of the official mind on this topic appears to have percolated down to many voters. When we checked for consistency between open-ended responses and responses to canned, closed ended questions about whether or not more trade is good, or whether reciprocal trade treaties make sense, we found that many who spontaneously expressed qualms in response to the open-ended questions nonetheless voiced agreement with the generalized pro-trade sentiments embodied in closed questions. Only the direct question about limiting imports (a substantial predictor of voting choices) tended to draw consistent responses, though that, too, only partly mirrors the skepticism voiced in the open ended questions.

Our conclusion is that these divergently expressed sentiments reflect real ambivalence in voter stances and raise some problematic methodological questions. We suspect that many voters (like, occasionally, Trump himself) profess to believe in free trade when it is also “fair trade,” or consider “free trade” in the abstract to signify a Good Thing.

Mind you, the study findings rely heavily the data findings, but the authors are very much aware of its limits. And personally, I have always found less structured and open-ended surveys to be extremely informative, even if it’s harder to draw firms conclusions from information that often winds up being disparate.

To the write-up at INET:

By Thomas Ferguson, Director of Research, Professor Emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Boston; Benjamin Page, Professor, Northwestern University; Jacob E. Rothschild, PhD Candidate, Northwestern University; Arturo Chang, Ph.D. Student – Political Theory, Northwestern University; and Jie Chen, University Statistician, University of Massachusetts. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website<

Donald Trump’s election in 2016 as president of the United States can be taken as a striking example of the rise of right-wing populism around the world.

Scholars and others have debated what the roots of that populism are among mass publics. For example, did voters in the United States respond chiefly to social anxieties—racism, xenophobia, sexism? Or mainly to economic distress—lost jobs, stagnant wages, home foreclosures, health care crises, student loan debt, and the like?

Most analysts have concluded that social anxieties overwhelmingly predominated. They argue that the story is simple: Trump was elected by “deplorables,” fueled by racial resentment, sexism, and fear or dislike of immigrants from abroad. Economics, they say, made little or no difference. This story has been repeated so often in many parts of the mass media that it has hardened into a kind of “common sense” narrative.

Our new paper shows that this view is mistaken. The picture is considerably more complicated. Social anxieties certainly did play an important part in Trump’s victories—particularly in the 2016 Republican primaries, where many voters were indeed motivated by resentments related to race, ethnicity, immigration, and gender. Social issues were important in the general election as well. But upon careful examination of several types of data, the real picture looks considerably more complicated.

Economic factors mattered at both stages. Moreover, in the general election—in contrast to the primaries—leading social factors actually tended to hurt rather than help Trump. While agreeing that racial resentment and sexism were important influences, the paper shows how various economic considerations—including concerns about imports and job losses, wealth inequality, social welfare programs, and starved infrastructure—helped Trump win the Republican primary and then led significant blocs of voters to shift from supporting Democrats or abstaining in 2012 to voting for him. It also presents striking evidence of the importance of political money and senators’ “reverse coattails” in the dramatic final result.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Skip Intro

    The apparent ambiguity in attitudes surrounding ‘free trade’ is understandable, given that Free Trade itself is a highly loaded framing. Everyone likes things that are called free. I imagine if the term were Borderless Trade, or Unlimited Product Immigration, the results would be quite different.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      The New Deal Restorationists need their ( our) own Frank Luntz to find or invent these terms and to focus-group them and inject them into the language.

      Maybe “Forced Trade” could be added to those other words for focus-grouping to see if they are worth weaponizing and disseminating.

      Stop Forced Trade!
      No Forced Trade!

      We could also refer to the Free Trade backers as the International Free Trade Conspiracy (IFTC).

      We could refer to the people who propagandize for Free Trade as Free Trade Hasbarists. We could call their propaganda to be Free Trade Hasbara. Maybe that phrase could be mainstreamed enough to de-capitalize it into plain old words . . . free trade hasbara.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          How about for those who are nothing-either-way semitic? Semitoneutral, as it were?

          Still won’t work for those of you who are prosemitic?

          Then invent other words which would work for you, and see if they would work for the semitoneutral majority. Get them focus grouped and tested. ( Well, not you specifically, but somebody with money and people and reach).

          Because dis-ambiguating battle words are needed to help win the war against free trade.

          1. sharonsj

            You claim to be “nothing either way semitic”? You’re a joke. Here is a definition of “hasbara”: Hasbara is a form of propaganda aimed at an international audience, primarily, but not exclusively, in western countries. It is meant to influence the conversation in a way that positively portrays Israeli political moves and policies, including actions undertaken by Israel in the past.

            So the inference is that Israel–and therefore the Jews–are behind international trade. Perhaps you’re on the wrong economic web site and really belong on the alt-right Zero Hedge?

  2. Adam1

    I became an adult in the late 80’s early 90’s free trade agreement years. As I recall American’s were told we needed these deals to make American goods competitive abroad and that in net the US economy would grow from it. They did acknowledge that some American jobs would be lost but that “training” would be available to help transition workers to new industries. What was not discussed or at least not broadly discussed was…

    — What happens when millions of Mexican farmers go bankrupt because of cheap subsidized US corn exports and migrate north to the US and look for work?

    — Are American’s who become unemployed because of the free trade willing and financially able to move to where the new jobs appear? And what about elderly family members who would have to be left behind? And much of the wealth of these people are tied up in homes that face property value declines or foreclosure because of unemployment.

    — What happens to the local communities and businesses who will suffer from the population decline as workers who are also consumers migrate to new locations?

    I’m sure there are other effects that were ignored or deliberately side stepped that would have likely radically changed the debate back then, but we shouldn’t be surprised at all that the people who suffered the most aren’t so happy now.

    1. Enquiring Mind

      One element of the last 30 years deserves more discussion. That is the decline in trust that accompanies the rise in perceived corruption.

      Where Clinton is concerned, one issue stands out: Corruption. Fully 18% of all respondents offering any comment on Clinton (comprising 10% of the total respondent pool) mentioned this concept. Here the disjunction between explicit term and broader concept is much narrower than usual: many respondents directly employed the term itself. In a nationwide survey of diverse, disconnected respondents, we consider this 18% figure to be stunning.

      I’m surprised that it was that low!

      1. ChiGal in Carolina

        Maybe I’m too mathematically unsophisticated to correctly assess this, but isn’t 18% of 10% approx 2% of respondents? That does seem low.

        Also, if corruption was the biggest problem for Clinton, given that I think most, including his supporters, understood Trump to be corrupt, maybe what offended most was not the corruption but the hypocrisy: the schoolmarmish holier-than-thou vibe that Clinton gave off.

        With Trump it was blatant, a wink and a nod.

        1. Skip Intro

          The 18% was the % of respondents who wrote in an ‘open-ended’ answer about how they felt. That 18% was 10% of all the respondents, including those who didn’t write an answer in.

          Your point about hypocrisy is good, but also sort of glosses over the fact that republicans tend to believe that government is about handing out money to friends, so corruption is to be expected, and they vote for those promising to give the money to them (as a capital gains tax cut, e.g.) instead of someone else (like welfare ‘queens’).

          The paper seemingly neglected two factors that have been mentioned numerous times here: the number of casualties in the Cheney-Obama wars, and the pre-election rise in ACA premiums. Although they did pick up on disappointment with ACA from the left via survey, it seems they did not look at the actual dollar impact. By tying herself to the status quo and promising Obama’s 3rd term, Clinton became uniquely vulnerable to this attack from the healthcare denial cartel.
          I seem to recall that the timing of ACA enrollment hurdles was intended by the Dem.s to be a repeated pre-election gift, to remind voters how good it was now. Their ‘inability’ to make an ACA that worked for people, instead of just delivering them, tied and trussed, to the insurers ended up making that timing a gift to the GOP. It is a shame, if not a surprise, that the industry would turn on Obama like that after he got his knees so dirty giving them whatever they wanted.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          If 53% of all respondents voted for Clinton, and you assume the people who filled out the questionnaire were equally distributed across Clinton and Trump voters, that’s 27% of all Trump voters (using the 10% level).

      2. Adam1

        I completely agree and I actually think it’s interwoven. The Clinton’s got rich and lots of people got screwed. The system feels rigged against them. “We’re all going to be better off with free trade” wink wink.

        1. redleg

          The “America’s already great!” and “Obama’s legacy!” campaign mantras were huge turn-offs, as it demonstrated how oblivious the Dems were to the situations of the vast majority of the population.
          When given the choice of lip service vs. persona non grata, voters (via the EC) delivered (through both omission and commission) the lip service candidate.

          1. jrs

            So what is Trump going to run on in 2020 given the Trump economy is still horrible and the vast majority still suffering and he’s pretending things are good? Being a charlatan only works once.

                1. DHG

                  I am afraid that is now a losing proposition. It is now clearly out there to see what this is really all about and I reject it.

            1. Seamus Padraig

              Well, in a two-party system elections are a zero-sum game, so it all really hinges on who the Dems nominate. If they try and run another Clintonoid neoliberal–or, gawd forbid, Clinton herself–then Trump has a better-than-even chance of re-election, I think. The Dems are best advised to drop all the political correctness and identity politics and focus instead on bread-and-butter issues. Those issues are winners for them; campaigning on tranny bathrooms is not. (What’s interesting in this case is that, once upon a time, the Clintons understood this. Bill’s old motto was, “It’s the economy, stupid!” Sound advice, I think.)

              1. Skip Intro

                They have little credibility to campaign on those things even if they were willing to throw their donors under the bus (which is extremely unlikely). Witness Hillary on TPP. I think they would still rather lose to Trump than allow Medicare For All or any kind of accountability for banksters, after all, they get paid to play, not to win. Their main role remains to block threats from the left. Using identity politics to split the electorate is as important for them as it is for those who count on votes from white supremacists.

                1. WJ

                  “Their main role remains to block threats from the left.”

                  +10000 This point cannot be repeated enough.

              2. drumlin woodchuckles

                But it was then Clinton who turned around and secured Free Trade and so forth by getting just enough DLC Democrats to conspire with the Republicans to get it passed.

                So Clinton was revealed to be a dirty double-crosser on economic betterment for most people. But he was so cheery and entertaining that people just couldn’t turn against him personally. His wife is neither cheery nor entertaining, so they ( some of them) could turn on her to get proxy revenge for The Great Clinton Doublecross. Which Hillary said she believed in and supported . . . so voting against her was a matter of brute survival as well as revenge.

    2. rd

      Traditional economists and politicians have been focusing on aggregate numbers like GDP, unemployment percentage etc. without getting into the breakdowns and how they are distributed.

      Ignoring the gains and losses distribution means that “loss aversion” has been ignored. We have a significant percentage of the population who are really or at least perceive that they are losing something. That is a very powerful emotion that would require a large segment of the population to believe that they are gaining much more than the losing population to have a balanced discourse.

      Concentrating wealth and income inequality means that it is a smaller and smaller number of people who are gaining significantly. So the psychological impacts on the losers are overwhelming the political debate because there are simply not enough winners to counterbalance the losers.

      The studies I have seen generally indicate that loss aversion is about twice as powerful as the joy of gains, so I make a rough extrapolation that you would need twice as many winners as losers to end up with a neutral political discourse. However, the gains are dis-proportionally going to only the top 10% and most of those gains are concentrated in the top 1%. A large percentage of the population is just treading water, so are not engaging joyously in the political process while there are quite a few people who have either remained at the bottom of the barrel or perceive that they are drifting back down towards it.

      The 1% are currently hanging on by their fingertips simply be throwing masses of cash into the political process and locking in things like the Federal courts for a generation. However, the election of Trump was a warning shot across the bow that money alone may not be enough to counteract the politics of loss aversion if enough of the population is disaffected.

      So free trade has probably increased GDP over the past 30 years, but if those gains only go to a few while losses are distributed to many more, it ultimately becomes a political loser unless it is restructured to broaden the gains. Hopefully the loss will be civil and orderly, not violent revolution.

      1. Code Name D

        I recently saw data regaarding economic growth for England mapped out geograficly. Only London and its satelights saw growth. The rest of the contry had been driven off a clif with masive de-industrlization.

        I would be intresting to see if US inequity has a simular geografical corrilation.

    3. David

      — What happens when millions of Mexican farmers go bankrupt because of cheap subsidized US corn exports and migrate north to the US and look for work?

      You may want to keep an open mind about this point.
      From U.S. Corn Exports to Mexico and the North American Free Trade Agreement,

      Although U.S. grain and Mexican livestock industry representatives and some of the economic literature credit much of the expansion in U.S. corn exports to Mexico to NAFTA, it is difficult to control for the other factors, and findings are not conclusive.

      In addition to policy changes in the U.S. and Mexico, other factors clouding this type of analysis include,

      Population and income growth positively influenced Mexican corn demand, owing to its use as the main input into meat production. Between 1990 and 2008, Mexico’s population expanded by one-third. At the same time, average income rose by 250 percent. The combination of population and income growth contributed to greater Mexican meat consumption, and between 1990 and 2008, combined Mexican consumption of beef, pork, and poultry rose 141, with per capita consumption growth of 81 percent. To match demand, Mexican meat production increased, with poultry production more than doubling and pork and beef production each increasing by around 50 percent. This increased production required greater imports of U.S. corn for animal feed.


      …the 1994-95 Mexican peso crisis likely reduced Mexican demand somewhat for U.S. corn. At the end of 1994, the Mexican government devalued the peso, and the financial crisis that followed cut the value of the peso in half, set off rising inflation, and sparked a recession in Mexico. The peso devaluation and resulting financial crisis were triggered by many factors that are thoroughly examined in the literature, including:  social unrest, an overvalued peso and currency peg, and a sharp drop in Mexico’s international reserves. The devaluation of the peso made imports from the United States more expensive, and the recession dampened consumer demand for meat and dairy products, hence lowering demand for livestock feed, including corn.

      Finally, census data shows that there was a “very gradual” increase in immigrants from Mexico after NAFTA was signed. The immigration surge started in 1999, more in line with the U.S. economic demand peaking than NAFTA implementation. (Source).

      1. Adam1

        Farming is not an industry where you can assume income is correlated with output. Farmers didn’t go bankrupt because they couldn’t sell their corn. Farmers went bankrupt because the price of corn fell and therefore their incomes dramatically declined and continued to decline. It wasn’t the volume of US corn exports it was the price US exporters will sell at. And yes while I may have overstated the extent of direct migration to the US, those unemployed farmers still ended up competing with US workers by being employed in Mexican factories.

        There is some very insightful data in this OECD report on the rural economy of Mexico. For example…
        – Between 1991 and 2005 the number of Mexicans employed in agriculture decline by 37% or 3.7 million people.
        – In 1996, 29% of farm household income was from wages; 40% from farm activities; 13% from financial income and the rest other, gifts and donations. In 2006 it’s 54% from wages, 29% from farming and 9% from financial income.

        1. David

          Thanks for the paper.

          I didn’t see NAFTA or bankrupt farmers mentioned in it. I did see the change in income distribution that you mention; but it sounds like the pie has grown, not shrunk.

          These findings suggest that in rural Mexico, a large share of rural household demand for purchased inputs, consumption and investment goods is supplied by regional towns which have proliferated in the last decade and which now account for most of the country’s urban growth. Most of the farm and non-farm diversification in rural Mexico is between villages, where agriculture is still the main economic activity. Nevertheless, village household incomes have diversified away from agriculture, largely as a result of families’ participation in labour markets outside the village and through wage work in distant towns or abroad. Increasing the income of village households and loosening agricultural supply constraints is important for the growth of the rural non-farm economy in towns and small cities.

          People are becoming more educated and leaving the farm to make more money to send back to the family.

          Other interesting findings in this study are the strong positive relations between education and both non-agricultural wage employment and self-employment. Schooling of household members is negatively correlated with rural households’ participation in agriculture, but positively correlated in non-farm activities.

          Whether they went to Mexico City or Los Angeles on a visa, it sounds like NAFTA has been beneficial to rural Mexico.

          1. Adam1

            You’re trying to change the subject. You may not like the language I chose, but my point is likely very valid. 1.5 million Mexican farmers stopped farming (farmers don’t normally stop farming unless they have no other option. If that isn’t readily obvious to you I’d suggest you go meet some.). Another 2.2 million rural Mexican workers stopped working on farms. Unless we assume they all become independently wealthy they went to work somewhere else. And, many of those still farming took up other non-farm (second) jobs – that’s what income diversification to wages means. What was the impact on US worker wages because of these changes? Mexicans coming to America depressed wages. Mexican’s taking jobs in factories built to export items to the US depressed US worker wages as well.

      2. David Green

        “Between 1990 and 2008, Mexico’s population expanded by one-third. At the same time, average income rose by 250 percent.”

        That seems exaggerated. The spreadsheet I have for historical per capita GDP increases, I think it’s from the World Bank or some relatively reliable data source, shows per capita GDP for Mexico, 1990-2014, increase from in the range of $7,000 to $10,000. I think you might have added a 0 to 25%.

        1. David Green

          Correction: Source: Calculated from real GDP and population in the ERS International Macroeconomic Data Set.

    4. tontine coffeehouse

      In a book recently mentioned at this site by Yves (China RX), there is a quote on China’s entrance into the WTO by President Bill Clinton (who had previously written a speech on moving forward with the privatization of Social Security — never given as the next day the Monica Lewinski scandal broke in the news):


      From a speech by President Bill Clinton at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in 2000:

      For the first time, our companies will be able to sell and distribute products in China made by workers here in America without being forced to relocate manufacturing to China, sell through the Chinese government, or transfer valuable technology — for the first time. We’ll be able to export products without exporting jobs. Meanwhile, we’ll get valuable new safeguards against any surges of imports from China.

  3. Louis Fyne

    “Global free trade” is managed trade. It’s managed by a bazillion rules and regs.

    This myth of free trade making everyone better is based off of simplistic, contrived Econ 101 models.

    As an analogy, California and West Virginia have had the purest form o free trade for 150+ years. WV’s a loser on the periphery, CA is a winner at the core. But WV’s chronic “trade deficit” with CA is made up with federal transfers. Globalism doesn’t dole out Medicaid or EBT cards

  4. Steve H.

    “Above all, our evidence makes clear that economic aspects of Trump’s message – often
    explicitly linked to more or less plausible policy proposals – were central. His deviations from
    Republican orthodoxy on trade and immigration were crucial in the primaries and powerful in
    the general election as well. His nods to criticisms of the wealthy and support for left-leaning
    economic policies (on infrastructure, jobs, Social Security and Medicare) undoubtedly helped
    defuse the usual advantage they bring to Democrats in general elections.”

    Table 13 also tells me that pissed-off Sanders voters swung the election. I ballpark a jump in popular vote win for Clinton from about 5% actual to 11%. Did that translate to electoral college votes? That’s testable, if someone cares to disprove.

    1. rd

      I think Sanders would have won critical states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin where his messages would have resonated with many of the disaffected Democratic voters. A vote for Sanders would have been a similar anti-establishment vote that Trump was, but without the racism and misogyny.

    2. campbeln

      This pissed off Sanders voter swung to Anything But Clinton mainly due to corruption, so all this sounds cogent to me. ‘Course I’m reporting in from California so I was pissing into the wind and I knew that going in.

      1. Arizona Slim

        I did the same thing, campbeln. And, in this election cycle, I don’t feel like I owe the D party anything.

      2. redleg

        Same here.
        My blue-no-matter-who friends told me I was throwing away my vote… until Trump won. Then it was, and remains, ALL MY FAULT!!!!!!!!!!
        Dems are political INCELs, and I’m no longer hiding my antipathy towards these [family blog]s.

  5. Tomonthebeach

    It is hard to read this paper and not divine that Bernie Sanders would have clobbered Trump because his message was sensitive to many of the economic concerns expressed in the various datasets analyzed and because he did no carry billionaire baggage, was not vulgar and sexist, etc. It is also clear how being in Wall Street’s pocket made HRC seem deplorable to many past Obama supporters.

    1. ChiGal in Carolina

      By the time of the 2016 election, it was apparent to many former Obama supporters that HE TOO and his preselected Cabinet, from Timmy Geitner to Eric Holder, were deeply embedded in Wall Street’s pocket.

      Had she opted to distance herself from the debacle of the previous 8 years (like Bernie did) maybe things would have been different.

    2. Michael Fiorillo

      All things being equal, it makes sense to think that Sanders might have defeated Trump for the reasons you give, but that doesn’t include the x factor of Sanders being an avowed socialist and a Jew. Had he been the Democratic nominee, it would have been a vicious and ugly campaign, probably beyond anything we’ve ever seen. His age would have been used against him, as well, in ways that other candidates haven’t been subjected to.

      Bernie’s economic message is powerful, and is the only way to go politically, but it means playing the long game, as the Right has done. I think that to state unequivocally that, “If only…” is a step too close to wishful thinking, ignores the forces that would have been arrayed against him, and the deep, deep pit we need to dig out of…

      1. a different chris

        I agree – but it would have been a lot more interesting to see it play out, and if Bernie somehow really did lose, well, so what? That’s what Hillary did. (Actually I do agree somebody would have thought to use Bernie’s age against him, but have you watched the guy? It would backfire bigly – he has the energy of somebody half his age. Way more than Trump. Again, it would be interesting.).

        And I’m a person who looks a bit gimlet-eyed at all the “Hillary stole the nomination” people. I’m not sure that’s true, really. But that’s another, and equally unimportant, story. It makes sense to think about how we got here, but the “Great Man/Woman” theory is one I have no truck with. Concentrate on what you can ascertain based on who voted and why and see how you can change/suppress/replace-with-nonvoters it. And it’s a pretty fuzzy “science”, that is. Over 100 million people vote, across 3.797 million square miles, and the PolSci people can’t really tell me the reason for sure based on a few thousand interviews.

      2. workingclasshero

        I’m a bernircrat in general,but if he runs in 2020 against trump he will get obliterated on raising taxes for medicare for all and this free higher ed.americans don’t want free stuff.they simply prefer cheap/affordable stuff.i hope i’m wrong though.

        1. ChrisPacific

          If they want cheap/affordable stuff then they should be supporting both of those policies. Would you describe the current healthcare and higher education systems in the USA as either cheap or affordable?

          1. MorningCoffee

            Think they’re expensive now, just wait until we see how much they costs when they’re free. Sorry. I’m a bit of a skeptic these days.

            I prefer lowering the barriers to market entry. Empowering people to access the rungs of the ladder doesn’t have to mean playing the high-cost/mass-debt games in healthcare and education. Those games seem toxic. Medicine arbitrage, ending credentialism and the War on Drugs – those could do much social and economic good. So, so much.

    3. tontine coffeehouse

      Well there were a number of reliable surveys taken just prior to the election — during the primaries — stating that in a Trump v. Sanders match, Sanders would win, while in a Trump v. Clinton match, Trump is the victor.

  6. Trick Shraodé

    I’m no fan of Trump but you just have to look at a map showing the rust-belt counties that Trump won vs. how they voted in 2008 and 2012. A lot of those couties elected and/or reelected him so you can’t exactly say they they went for Trump because of racism. They went for Trump because their lot in life didn’t improve under Obama and Clinton was promising more of the same.

    1. Plenue

      And yet blaming Trump’s win on racism is exactly what liberals do, when they bother to engage at all with the fact that 200+ counties that previously voted twice for Obama flipped to Trump. They, the media, and much of academia have already made up their minds: Trump is Neo-Hitler and he won because America is filled with bigoted assholes who just wanted to be assholes.

  7. Phil in KC

    I’m an independent, and find little of value in either team Red or team Blue’s campaign platform this year. Team Red has the same old formula, small government, lower taxes, secure borders. Well, small government and lower taxes has not translated into prosperity and security for the middle classes, and as for the crowd at the border, I guess we are supposed to be scared, very scared, because these folks will be competing with us for scarce resources (made more scarce by lower taxes and smaller government).

    Team Blue has pre-existing conditions, which is sort of new, protecting Social Security and Medicare (thanks, Mitch McConnell, for making that scary statement the other day), which they have not done very well, and what else? A fairer deal? Being less harsh than the Republicans? Meh.

    Neither side seems to get it that half of all the households in this country don’t even have checking accounts, or have $400 saved up for an emergency expense, according to the Fed.

    Obama promised hope and change in 2008 and 2012. Trump was the change in 2016. I think Trump makes people feel better about themselves, but that’s his genius, making you feel good about your struggles. The tax cut of last December has not made much of an impact on the lives of average folks.

    Neither side is talking about trade, manufacturing, student debt, or for that matter, kitchen table economics at all. We are just supposed to be scared, I suppose.

    If Trump doesn’t deliver on the change he promised ( i.e. the end of the “carnage”), then it will be interesting to see where the electorate goes in 2020 and beyond. Should we expect torches and pitchforks?

    Oh, we should also be mindful that there are still millions of voters who are animated by culture and value issues. Yes, it is about the economy, but also about other things, too.

    1. a different chris

      It’s a weird one, methinks. I – and I know just enough to be worth what you paid for this comment! – find in life that people are racist and sexist and horrible, but they don’t really behave that badly if they have a solid job.* So if the Trump Economy regains its footing the emotional issues voters, which is an important part of his base, may fade a bit. And note, he didn’t win say PA by much at all, less than 1% and well less than 50% overall. Do you suspect a minimum of 4500 people voted for Trump just because they hated Hillary? I certainly do.

      So while The Incumbency is worth quite a bit, other unexpected factors are chipping away underneath him.

      *Millionaires and above are a different story. They iz just weird. I’m speaking of low-thru-upper middle class paycheck jobs

      1. redleg

        Agree in theory.
        People seem to be less likely to act out on their prejudices when times are good. This is the major flaw in identity politics- class is a, if not the, common denominator that connects the other identities (anti-war too!). And Dems use identity politics ad nauseum but leave class out of their canon as if it was taboo.

      2. Phil in KC

        Would Hitler have been able to come to power if the Weimar Republic had been able to govern successfully during the world economic crisis of 1929-1933? Would the Russian Revolution of 1917 been averted had there been success on the battlefield and bread on the tables of Russia?

        For that matter, would Franklin Roosevelt have won the election of 1932 if the US economy was visibily recovering under the ministrations of Herbert Hoover?

        In my opinion, people will put up with a lot just so long as they can feed, clothe, and house themselves and their families. Which is why you want a prosperous and burgeoning middle class: it staves off revolt and contributes to stability. Oh, and people are generally more happy and less angry.

  8. David in Santa Cruz

    I’m having a hard time getting the report to load on the device that I’m using, but It seems clear that the 2016 election was decided by the fact that only 26.5% of eligible voters cast votes for Clinton and 26.3% of eligible voters cast votes for Trump — Electoral College gerrymandering rendered Clinton’s bare .2% margin in the national vote insignificant in the economically distressed districts that swung the result.

    Trump didn’t “win” when nearly three-quarters of eligible voters didn’t support him, but Clinton clearly “lost.” I think that the 18% of respondents who spontaneously brought up Clinton’s “corruption” is incredibly significant when we know that 10 million 2008 Obama voters failed to participate in the 2016 presidential vote. Thank you for emphasizing this data point.

    1. Louis Fyne

      to add to your point that Clintonism/whatever’s left of FDR-liberalism lost v. Trump won, Trump votes + Johnson votes > Clinton votes + Stein votes.

      the Electoral College did exactly what it was supposed to do. provide legitimacy to a fractured electorate.

      1. David in Santa Cruz

        Except that the central premise on Clintonism is the dismantling of the New Deal. So the rejection of Clintonism is NOT a loss for New Deal liberalism.

        1. Code Name D

          Which is why we got the Russia Russia Russia narative, to distract away from the lack of correct messaging.

          Clintion Democrts live in a fantisy land of their own making. It should be expected that they keep pumbing into reality.

  9. Disturbed Voter

    The slower than normal recovery under Obama, was due to the overhand of the 14 trillion bank giveaway under late Bush/early Obama. The public has to pay one skin at a time for that giveaway, and they have for the last 10 years.

  10. orange cats

    As the article relates, Trump tweaked his right-wing populist message with a few ‘lefty’ positions–support of some government programs, jobs, restricting imports.

    I didn’t find anything else very interesting or significant, although I might have missed something hacking through the jargon and caveats with a machete. The authors assert that the economy played a role in Trump’s victory, apparently addressing analysts who believe social factors were dominant, even exclusive. I don’t know who these analysts are, but most everything I read agrees the economy played a role in defeating the democrats. At the same time the authors admit social factors were important, and that it’s virtually impossible to to discern whether social factors inform anxiety about the economy. So it’s both, and we don’t know if one is more fundamental than the other. The one statistic they cite which seems to indicate a purely economic motive for a Trump vote is the small percentage of Obama voters who voted Trump in 2016, who tended to be poor.

  11. Louis Fyne

    that study literally did not mention the word “gun” in 71 pages, while “second amendment” is mentioned once..

    and “racial resentment” could be a proxy correlating with declining standards of living/income inequality/higher debt burdens.

    just sayin.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Those people would have voted Republican regardless. They voted for Romney in 2012. Romney lost. So why should one think guns would have anything to do with why some people who voted for Obama in 2012 voted for Trump in 2016?

    2. JBird4049

      Although gun owners tend to be conservative, a fair number of gun owners and rights advocates are leftists and even more are moderates. And while there are plenty of white racists, there are a lot more impoverished Americans who have been abandoned by both parties. President Trump became President because people started to believe their own lying eyes instead of the smooth lies of Clinton the Dealer. Unfortunately they believed the smooth patter of President Cardsharp.

  12. Pat

    I’m a never Clinton voter from 2002 on. I was getting there earlier in her Senate term, but her blatant politically calculated vote for invading Iraq sealed the deal (legally it was a lot of other things, but anyone who thought there was any chance that vote was anything but a rubber stamp for invasion is mentally deficient). That was also the point that I stopped buying the witch hunt meme and really started looking at the long line of ethically questionable to downright blatantly obvious corruption and political con game of both Clintons. The continued fallout from his administration was just icing on the cake.

    Yes, Trump is equally corrupt. But one thing he has going for him is that he is seen as coming from wealth to begin with and few of his voters would have felt any personal loss from his actions. His wealth also would not feel sourced from selling out voters. Clinton panders with ‘we were broke’, while she and Bill have his six figure pension, a mansion in New York, and she has a very nice Senate salary, and even though both have largely been supposed public servants in no time they are multi-millionaires demanding private jet transportation. Meanwhile factories and good jobs disappear. The corruption of one is far more personal to many of the economically distressed than the other.

    In the would have, could have, should have world – Yes, I believe Sanders would have won if he had been the nominee. I also believe if anyone in the Clinton camp had a clear idea of why Trump was resonating with Rust Belt voters, and acted on it Clinton would have won. If they managed to put together a coherent response acknowledging the failure of the Clinton/Bush/Obama years for those regions that were struggling and offering some change other than ‘training’, no matter how false some of those people who stayed home would have voted. But they couldn’t and she didn’t want to campaign or go to areas where she did have to sell her candidacy. They also were so busy showing strength they even failed on the surrogates.

    There are so many reasons she lost. Most of it on her and her campaign – their arrogance, their ignorance, even their complacency. But the biggest reason Trump won was that he was the change candidate. Sadly, voters have been voting for change for the last three Presidencies. Even sadder, I believe that the Dems would repeat the second term opposition candidate mistake of those same Presidencies. The losers all were about a return to the ‘norm’ that got rejected four years earlier. It seems to take eight years to allow someone to run more as a repudiation for the current and the former administrations. As the Democrats seem to be declaring they will double down on the neoliberal policies that voters have rejected over and over, I would not be surprised to see a two term Trump. (Not to mention that the brain trust of the Democratic leadership will be sure to step in it if they get one or more House of Congress).

    1. Sparkling

      Spot on! Every President in the last 18 years was elected to take us away from Clintonian politics in some form or fashion.

      Remember, experts were calling Trump insane for campaigning in the Rust Belt because they thought the Democrats would get the factory worker vote like they always have. That they would vote for the woman whose husband shafted them just because she was a Democrat. We know how that turned out!

  13. Sound of the Suburbs

    There was a feeling of great hope in the US when Obama came to power, and people expected him to be the next FDR.

    Obama double crossed the US electorate after tricking them with promises of “Hope and Change”.

    He bailed out Wall Street at 100c in the Dollar and did little for Main Street.

    The house of Representatives was lost in 2010, the Senate in 2014 and the Presidency in 2016.

    Full house for the Republicans as Obama had been on a slow motion suicide mission for the Democrats.

Comments are closed.