Of the zombie narratives to emerge from the 2016 presidential election, the one that seems most resistant to factual analysis, no matter how many times it is debunked, is the notion that Trump voters responded to a populist economic message, and were acting out of economic concerns (the corollary to this zombie narrative is that Secretary Clinton failed to articulate an economic platform that addressed the concerns of the White Working Class [WWC], and from this lost the rust-belt, and the election.)
The problem with the narrative, as appealing as it has been to many, even self-described progressives here, is that it simply was never true:
According to a broad swath of popular understanding, Donald Trump will be the next president because he narrowly won three critical states — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — powered by working class voters frustrated with economic intransigence.
But that’s not what exit polling shows in those states… Exit polls show Hillary Clinton winning a majority of the vote from people who told pollsters that the economy was the most important issue facing the country. What’s more, in each state, a majority of voters said that was the case.
What did prompt people to vote for Trump? It wasn’t mysterious at the time, as I noted three days after the election:
I’m skeptical of the characterization that there are a substantial number of Trump supporters who meet any reasonable standard of ‘decent people’…
The grotesque bigotry exposed by this election represents the singular social, economic, cultural and political issue to be addressed. Why? Because there are no political and economic issues that don’t include elements of discrimination— systemic, institutional, pervasive discrimination— that impacts all matters of equal justice, equal protection under the law, equal opportunity for education and economic advancement, protection of the environment, constraining corporate abuses.
If you are a progressive, and you say your focus is on any of these issues, than you must recognize that the fight against racism, misogyny, religious intolerance and homophobia takes precedence.
This fight takes precedence in purely pragmatic terms, but it also takes manifest precedence in purely moral terms.
If you are not prepared to bear personal economic sacrifice so that others may enjoy full and equal status as Americans, not prepared to set aside your immediate self-interest in the service of moral imperatives, then you aren’t a progressive. And, ironically, you are in fact working against your economic, environmental or social justice goals.
I truly don’t understand how so many progressives fail to grasp this— indulging and excusing racism, misogyny, homophobia and religious intolerance doesn’t ‘bring the bigots into the conversation’, it let’s them off the hook…
I have no patience for all the wise and righteous progressives lecturing us about ‘trying to understand where the anger of Trump voters comes from, and what their real concerns are’. Their anger and perceived grievances against ‘the Washington establishment and liberal elites’ can never be an excuse for voting for a racist, misogynistic, homophobic, religious bigot. Let’s dispense with any notion that this election was about anything else than white Christian identity politics and privilege:
What appears to have made the biggest difference on the night was the turnout for Trump of white voters across the board – of both sexes, almost all ages and education levels, and from mid- and higher income levels.
- Among college-educated whites, 45% voted for Clinton – 39% of men and 51% of women (the only white demographic represented in the poll where the former secretary of state came out on top). But 54% of male college graduates voted for Trump, as did 45% of female college graduates.
Broken down by income bracket, 52% of voters earning less than $50,000 a year – who make up 36% of the electorate – voted for Clinton, and 41% for Trump.
But among the 64% of American voters who earn more than $50,000 a year, 49% chose Trump, and 47% Clinton. (emphasis added)
Let’s be clear— the concerns of any working class whites who voted for Trump are no different than the less well-off anywhere, and they face none of the hardships of those who weren’t lucky enough to be white, heterosexual and Christian. (But apparently, when you are white, heterosexual and Christian, your grievances are a national crisis.)
Every generation, progressives congratulate ourselves about progressive social, cultural and political achievements. These achievements have been hard won, and are absolute moral imperatives.
But the election has reminded us that a large proportion of the country has never agreed to joining a modern, pluralistic society. They’ve been resisting in more or less open fashion since the Civil War. We just stopped realizing this was true, even when they hang President Obama in effigy at college football games, and spray swastikas on shop windows on the anniversary of Krystallnacht, the night of Trump’s election.
I believe we have coddled the sensibilities and sensitivities of this group too much, for too long, with offers of mutual understanding and shared benefits, and we have been rewarded with absolutely nothing in return. We are no longer even arguing about what to do, we are arguing about factual reality.
If we are not prepared to face the reality of what is ‘right in front of our nose’– what the message of this election is, and what it says about those prepared to vote for Trump, then at that point, we as progressives have failed to address the most urgent issues in the nation, the issues we have never been able to resolve— racism, misogyny, religious intolerance and homophobia.
And the evidence for the real dynamic of those drawn to Trump’s rhetoric keeps coming in.
Tom Jacobs at Pacific Standard offers more findings from those researching the last presidential election:
… a new scholarly analysis suggests Trump’s instinct that racial prejudice drove him to victory is spot on.
“The 2016 campaign witnessed a dramatic polarization in the vote choices of whites based on (their level of) education,” writes a research team led by political scientist Brian Schaffner of the University of Massachusetts–Amherst. “Very little of this gap can be explained by the economic difficulties faced by less-educated whites. Rather, most of the divide appears to be associated with sexism, and denialism of racism.” (emphasis added)
This last bit I highlighted exposes the core fallacies of the zombie narrative—sexism and denialism of racism.
There are plenty of individuals that will deny that they are racist, but it is another thing entirely to claim racism, as a significant concern cor the country, doesn’t exist at all:
“In 2016, however, the gap in vote preferences between college-educated and non-college-educated whites widened considerably to 18 points,” they add. “College-educated whites were more supportive of [Hillary] Clinton than they had been of [Barack] Obama in 2012, while whites without a college degree moved even more dramatically toward Trump.”
Why this occurred has been debated ever since, with one side emphasizing these voters’ economic woes, and the other focusing on their fears of a changing society. To try to determine which was more important, the researchers looked at data from two large, nationally representative surveys administered online by YouGov: a pre-election poll of 2,000 American adults taken in late October of 2016, and a survey of 2,830 who were interviewed just before and just after the vote.
Schaffner and his colleagues focused on their responses to seven statements that reflect their attitudes about race and gender. Participants indicated their level of agreement or disagreement with each.
They included “Women are too easily offended;” “Women seek to gain power by getting control over men;” “White people in the U.S. have certain advantages because of the color of their skin;” and “Racial problems in the US. are rare, isolated situations.”
Note the parallel to climate change denialism— if it doesn’t exist, not only do we not have to do anything about it, and those that express concerns are perpetuating politically motivated falsehoods.
Add to this those that seem to think Women seek to gain power by getting control over men, and it’s not hard to decipher which candidate fit their preferences— the one who bragged about sexually assaulting and degrading women, and calls Mexicans rapists. The other candidate, THAT WOMAN, was just seeking to control men to gain power.
Of course, if you ask the average bigot about there bigotry directly, and they suspect you don’t share their views, they’re likely to say it was everything but the bigotry that drove their choice. (Which brings us to the trenchant observation of our own Meteor Blades: Don’t tell me what you believe, show me what you do, and I’ll know what you believe.)
Why does this matter?
Because the zombie narrative is still part of progressive political discourse:
Democrats should reach out to those white non-college voters for whom issues besides immigration are potentially more salient.
It is on economic issues that these voters are most open to overtures…
This is precisely the wrong approach for any Democrat to take.
Why? Because this cohort never was amenable to the Democratic platform, and never will be:
Do you believe in mermaids, unicorns and fairies?
If so, you may have taken interest in a new mythical creature that appeared during the 2016 election: the Trump Democrat.
It has become an article of faith that an unusually large number of people who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 or 2012 switched sides and voted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. It follows that Democrats, to win in the future, need to get these lost partisans to come home…
Data from the American National Election Study survey found that about 13.4 percent of Trump voters had backed Obama in 2012. A University of Virginia poll found that 20 percent of Trump voters had supported Obama at least once.
But such polls have a flaw: People tend to forget how they voted in previous elections, with more recalling they voted for the winner than actually did. A poll released in June by the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, a nonpartisan collaboration of analysts and scholars, avoided this problem because it re-interviewed the same respondents queried in 2012; they were asked who they voted for in real time.
Democracy Fund found a fairly ordinary crossover vote in 2016: 9.2 percent of Obama voters supported Trump and 5.4 percent of Mitt Romney voters supported Clinton. That was a “typical” and unsurprising degree of partisan loyalty. “The 2016 election did not create more instability, in the aggregate, than others,” it reported…
In 2008, a larger-than-usual number of Republican voters went with Obama during an extraordinary time, when the economy was in free fall and an incumbent Republican president was deeply unpopular. ANES polling found that 17 percent of Obama voters in 2008 had been for George W. Bush in 2004, compared with the 13 percent of Trump voters, the same survey found, who supported Obama at least once. These people aren’t Obama-Trump voters as much as they were Bush-Obama voters.
This is important, because it means Democrats don’t have to contort themselves to appeal to the mythical Trump Democrats by toughening their position on immigration, or weakening their support for universal health care, or embracing small government and low taxes. What Democrats have to do is be Democrats.
Fortunately, the approach of our party and our candidates over the past year have largely ignored the zombie narrative:
One year after Hillary Clinton’s demoralizing Electoral College loss to Donald Trump, women have something to cheer: A stunning wave of first-time female candidates won races for the Virginia House of Delegates Tuesday night—and helped propel their all-male slate of statewide candidates to a decisive victory. As of Wednesday morning, the state Democratic Party said it had picked up 16 seats, tying the GOP 50-50—and 12 of the winners were women. (There may still be a few recounts.)…
“Turnout was way up where we ran candidates,” said former Virginia congressman Tom Periello, the progressive who lost the Democratic primary to Ralph Northam and immediately endorsed his former rival, and joined Win Virginia, a progressive PAC pushing state House candidates. “And particularly where we ran a diverse slate.”
There’s nowhere that the slate wasn’t diverse, given the presence of Justin Fairfax, elected the state’s second black lieutenant governor. In the House of Delegates, the victors ranged from transwoman Danica Roem (who beat “bathroom bill” sponsor Bob Marshall), to former television newsman Chris Hurst (whose girlfriend Alison Parker was shot live on Roanoke local TV and who evicted incumbent Joseph Yost in Blacksburg).
Barrier-breaking candidates won races across the country on Election Day this year. The results were a parade of “firsts” from New Hampshire to North Carolina to Montana as women, people of color, and LGBTQ candidates became the first to win elections in their respective contests.
Cities in Minnesota and Montana elected their first black mayors, and Charlotte, North Carolina, elected a black woman as mayor for the first time. Virginia elected its first Latina and Asian-American delegates. Transgender candidates won races in Virginia, Minnesota, California, and Pennsylvania.
Tuesday was a big night for Democrats — and these historic “firsts” show that the party can run a diverse slate of candidates and win.
Full-throated social, economic and environmental justice messages will turn off the supposed Trump Democrats (which may not even exist in numbers that can turn an election anywhere), yet it is precisely those messages that have won election after election over the past year.
Bottom line, pursuit of these voters will do more harm than good— appealing to them hurts us with our base, and they are not likely to be reliable Dem voters (poor return on investment).
Our attention and resources should be devoted to everyone EXCEPT white males who voted for Trump, and who (along with white females) have voted GOP overwhelmingly for decades.
That’s how we’ll win, without sacrificing our base, or our values.