Although the events and polls of the last week seem to indicate the odds are completely in the favor of Clinton in the upcoming election Trump continues to play a domineering role in political coverage. Nothing seems to intrigue pundits and reporters more than explaining why Trump has had such a large appeal. The usual conclusion is that Trump is riding of the economic hardships being felt by the white working class people in America and that we should sympathize with his supporters. However, this convenient truth, like most, is simply not true upon closer inspection.
In July 2016 Gallup researchers took tens of thousands of data points about Trump supporters and analyzed dozens of factors. The data seemed to contradict everything you would expect if Trump was running off economic anxiety of working class white. Unemployment among Trump supporters was lower than among those with an unfavorable view of Trump and their incomes were 6% higher than people who don’t support Trump. Furthermore, Trump’s support was not disproportionately centered in areas hit hard by trade. This can be seen in the primary results as well where although Trump did win rust belt states like Michigan he also won states like Nevada and New Jersey whose economies are more dependent on casinos than factories. In fact, almost none of the data pointed towards an ongoing economic hardship concentrated in Trump’s supporters, but it did find something much more disturbing.
Trump supporters are more likely to have little contact with immigrants and live in all white communities. Even in areas with high amounts of Latino immigration support among Trump is lower even among whites. While this revelation may not be surprising given Trump’s calls for a wall along the border and travel ban for Muslims it does complicate the media’s call for sympathy with Trump’s supporters. We must understand that the fuel behind Trump’s campaign is not the “NAFTA”-induced economic hardship of the white working class but is instead fueled by what researchers call racial resentment and anxiety over demographic change. This complicates the call for sympathy and understanding with Trump’s supporters. It only makes it more important to recognize though. We cannot continue to pretend that this belief is not fueling a major political candidate, we must as a nation recognize it. Then we can move forward and each of us, every politician, journalist, leader, and voter must decide how to handle this. Sympathize with Trump supporters as people naturally trying to cling to the America they know as it rapidly changes? Or denounce Trump supporters as xenophobic and racists? I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle, but what’s most clear is that claiming Trump’s support comes from a disproportionate economic hardship on the white working class is not only false, it prevents us from having important discussion as a nation. The first step to solving any problem is recognizing you have one. Trump isn’t running on the economy; he’s running on the racial fears of whites. While that is scary, it’s even scarier to deny it.