Economic anxiety and Donald Trump voters

A lot of Hillary Clinton supporters say that Donald Trump’s supporters are not white working people who are worried about their jobs and their economic future.  No, Trump’s supporters are all racists and bigots.

Trump in NH in 2015. Source: Reuters

Trump in NH in 2015. Source: Reuters

It’s true that Trump has sought to appeal to white nationalists, gun-toting private militias and paranoid conspiracy theorists.

In the primary election, he talked a lot about unfair trade treaties, industrial decline, immigration and unwise military interventions.  He still talks about immigration, but his emphasis now is on law and order, the threat of unauthorized voters and Hillary Clinton’s e-mails.

But all kinds of people support Trump for all kinds of reasons.  Some no doubt vote for him because they fear Muslim terrorists, unauthorized Mexican immigrants and illegal African-American voters.  Others see him as the last hope of making American industry great again.  And many others see him as the lesser of two evils.

If you say that all Trump supporters are racists and bigots and nothing more, then there is no reason for Democrats to try to appeal to them on economic grounds.

And if you say that, there is no political reason for Democrats to appeal to black and Hispanic working people in grounds of economic self-interest either, because Donald Trump’s candidacy provides sufficient reason for voting Democratic.

The same logic works in reverse for Trump.  He doesn’t have to do anything to advance the interests of white working people because it is sufficient that he claims to be able to protect them from Muslim terrorists, Mexican immigrants and black criminals.

So long as a critical mass of us Americans are motivated primarily by fear of each other, we’re not going to get anywhere.


Taking Trump voters seriously means listening to what they are actually saying by Dylan Matthews for Vox.  An argument that Trump voters are mostly racists.

Economic Anxiety and the Limits of Data Journalism by James Kwak for The Baseline Scenaria.  A rebuttal to Matthews.

Sympathy for the Devil? by Seth Ackerman for Jacobin.  Another rebuttal.

Fool Me Once by Connor Kilpatrick for Jacobin.  The issue defined.

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