Does Trump represent U.S. working people?

The following is from Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight web log.

Trump-Iowa-supporters-Getty-640x480It’s been extremely common for news accounts to portray Donald Trump’s candidacy as a “working-class” rebellion against Republican elites.  There are elements of truth in this perspective: Republican voters, especially Trump supporters, are unhappy about the direction of the economy.  Trump voters have lower incomes than supporters of John Kasich or Marco Rubio.  And things have gone so badly for the Republican “establishment” that the party may be facing an existential crisis.

But the definition of “working class” and similar terms is fuzzy, and narratives like these risk obscuring an important and perhaps counter-intuitive fact about Trump’s voters: As compared with most Americans, Trump’s voters are better off. The median household income of a Trump voter so far in the primaries is about $72,000, based on estimates derived from exit polls and Census Bureau data. That’s lower than the $91,000 median for Kasich voters. But it’s well above the national median household income of about $56,000. It’s also higher than the median income for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters, which is around $61,000 for both.

Source: FiveThirtyEight

Other polls indicate that Trump supporters represent a cross-section of the population rather than just wage-earners.  And, in general, people who vote, especially in primary elections, are on average better educated and better off than the population in general.

But, as Silver noted, a great deal of Trump’s appeal is in his promise to get the economy moving again.

What’s going on?  I think it is the discontent of middle class people who are losing their middle class income and status—people who once had good professional or skilled trades jobs, but are now just getting by with a series of temporary and part-time jobs; young people with good educations under a crushing burden of student debt; employees of large organizations who live under the threat of downsizing.

Eric Hoffer, in The True Believer, wrote that poverty and oppression, in and of themselves, do not cause political and social upheavals.  If they did, the world would be in a constant state of revolution.  Revolutions occur, he wrote, when people lose something they feel they’re entitled to, or when they’re given false hopes, and those hopes are taken away.

I think there are a lot of people in both these categories in the USA, and I think Trump and Sanders, in their different ways, speak for them.

Memo to Self

Having made these generalizations, I need to warn myself—and maybe you, too—about over-generalization.

Not everybody who votes for Trump, Clinton, Sanders or anybody else votes for them for the same reason.

Not all working people are white.  Not all white working people are for Trump.  Not all young people are for Sanders.  Not all African-Americans are for Clinton.

It is less important for me to think about which demographic groups support which candidate than to think about which candidate does and does not deserve support.


The Mythology of Trump’s ‘Working Class’ Support by Nate Silver for FiveThirtyEight.  Read this for an explanation of Silver’s methodology, and a breakdown of his statistics by states.

What pundits keep getting wrong about Donald Trump and the working class by Jamie Bouie for Slate.

Why Elites Hate Trump by Nicole M. Aschoff for Jacobin.

Yes, Voters Really Are Angry and Anxious About the Unfairness of the Economy by David Atkins for Washington Monthly.  [added later]

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2 Responses to “Does Trump represent U.S. working people?”

  1. Barry Says:

    “And, in general, people who vote, especially in primary elections, are on average better education and better off than the population in general.”

    Please note that Nate was comparing Trump supporters to other primary voters.


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