In the immediate aftermath of Trump’s shocking electoral victory, dozens of very confident op-eds crowded the bulk of progressive home pages, claiming to know why it happened and what we (the shocked) had missed. Now, more than five months later, we have the well-regarded 2016 American National Election Study to provide us with some relatively concrete answers.
Released last week, the ANES revealed its findings after questioning roughly 1,200 demographically diverse respondents at length. Thanks to public funding and a nearly 70-year history of conducting quality research, the ANES provides an objective and historical view to counterbalance the welcome—but sometimes distracting—array of opinions proliferating on the internet.
Here’s what the ANES found. According to the data, 2016 defied historical trends, so we’re not all crazy in thinking it was a rough year. One of those trends involves wealthy voters typically choosing the Republican candidate. This election cycle, however, poor, white voters threw unusually enthusiastic support behind Trump, while the rich kept their distance. That may not be the most surprising tidbit, but when it comes to authoritarianism, it appears Trump voters were hardly different than conservatives of decades past. Researchers asked respondents indirectly about authoritarian views to gauge their dispositions (by framing questions in the form of child-rearing ideals), and found this recent batch of conservatives to be no more fearful of chaos and disorder than the rest.
So, what gives? Why did so many people vote for Trump, despite his cavalier attitude toward sexual assault, blatant lies, and obvious ineptitude? According to the data, it largely comes down to race. After controlling for educational, racial, ideological, and age differences among the respondents, it’s easier to tease out the main influence. That influence comes down to racist attitudes for the simple mathematical reason that moving up 25 percentage points on the authoritarian scale only resulted in respondents being 3 percent more likely to vote Trump. Move the same amount on the racism scale, and you see voters are 20 percent more likely to vote for Trump.
While the study did not factor in misogyny’s role in swaying voters, it does provide us some clarity by cutting through the noise of countless possible variables. Recognizing hard core Trump supporters as (likely) more racist than the rest may not be a comfortable truth to face, but having the data brings us one step closer to fixing the problem—a problem we’ve had all along.