Working Paper

The Hinge of Fate? Economic and Social Populism in the 2016 Presidential Election A Preliminary Exploration

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Support for populism is often attributed to xenophobia, racism, sexism; to anger and resentment at immigrants, racial or ethnic minorities, or “uppity” non-traditional women. According to these accounts , people who feel socially resentful may reject established politicians as favoring those “others” over people like themselves, and turn to outsider populistic leaders.

But it is also possible that t hose who back populist movements or politicians may suffer from real material deprivation s : many years of low or stagnant incomes; job losses; inadequate housing or health care; blighted co mmunities ; and years of budget cuts (Autor et al., 2016) (Autor et al., 2017) (Storm, 2017) (Temin, 2016) (Monnat and Brown, 2017) . They may blame government s a nd established politicians for doing little to help.

Of course s ocial and economic factors may interact with each other in complicated ways. Anti - immigrant attitudes may reflect fears of job competiti on as well as cultural anxiety . Economic deprivation may make people susceptible to demagogic scapegoating that blames their t r oubles on foreigners. Gender and racial stereotypes , too, may be exacerbated by economic suffering – or activated by political appeals.

We hope to help sort out which specific sorts of economic and social factors have been how important in produc ing support for populi sm , by examining a particular case: the remarkable rise to the U.S. presidency of Donald J. Trump , which surprise d , dismay ed , and aroused active opposition from nearly the entire establishments of both major U.S. political parties.

The present paper offers a preliminary look at some proximate causes of Trump’s success: the belief s, attitudes, and preferences among individual American s that permitted or facilitated Trump’s electoral success. Our data are drawn mostly from the America n Na tional Election Survey for 2016. This is a national sample which has only recently opened to researchers. Fitting its data into longer term trends and, especially, contextualizing it with the specifics of geography and local economies takes time and we ran out of it for this paper . As a consequence, we have not yet been able to address how historical events and long - term trends that – over a period of many years – le d up to and may have been fundamental causes of the outcome of the electi on. That is a very large yellow flag , given the strong evidence that place and long run economic trends figured substantially in both the primaries and the outcome of the general election (Monnat and Brown, 2017) (Guo, 2016) .