Why did white working-class voters shift toward Donald Trump in the 2016 election? Was it about money or culture — their struggles in the new economy or their prejudices?
A recent article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Diana C. Mutz comes down on the side of culture. Dr. Mutz studied the responses of voters who were interviewed in October 2012 and October 2016, focusing on those who switched their support from Barack Obama to Mr. Trump. She argues that these white voters turned to Mr. Trump not because their economic situation had deteriorated but because they were increasingly anxious about whether they could hold on to their dominant social position.
Other scholars have made similar claims. A report based on a 2016 national survey concluded that the white-working-class tilt toward Mr. Trump occurred because of fears of “cultural displacement” rather than economic hardship. Three political scientists argued that the shift represented an “identity crisis” among whites without college educations that was rooted in their fear that African-Americans and immigrants were undermining their position as the majority group.
These conclusions, faithful as they may be to the survey data that underlie them, exemplify a misguided debate about whether culture or economics was the driving force in Mr. Trump’s win. To be sure, racism is a corrosive part of American culture and politics. Nevertheless, those who try to distinguish between the explanatory power of stagnant wages and a declining industrial base on the one hand, and anxieties about the ascent of minority groups on the other, miss the point: These are not two different factors but two sides of the same coin.
– The New York Times