Part 2 of Times Square — a new series on jobs, automation and anxiety from the world's public square.
Read part 1 ► Where the gig worker fits inside the firm
Social identity of white dominance, not poverty, drove American men to vote for Donald Trump in the US elections, says a new study
that debunks Exhibit A of nearly every post mortem about the US President’s stunning political rise.
What’s more, Trump voters’ opinions on race, religion and immigration did not shift further right between the Obama years and Trump’s ascent. They remained exactly on the same spot, says the revealing new work by Diana Mutz, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania.
With the US midterm elections barely six months away, this line of thinking tells us why Trump could be taking a meat cleaver to immigration reform even though there’s little appetite for it in a miserably gridlocked US Congress.
“Unlike any nation in Europe, America holds whiteness as the unifying force,” writes Toni Morrison, one of America’s best loved novelists. Group identities around whiteness — something that people will kill, die (and vote) for are typically clan based and that is the case Mutz makes in her paper.
With the US midterm elections barely six months away, this line of thinking tells us why Trump could be taking a meat cleaver to immigration reform even though there’s little appetite for it in a miserably gridlocked US Congress. The way groups behave on the street and online is often emergent, generating new strands of thinking on the go. Push that idea further and you get Trump’s remarkable following on social platforms that are free, instant and offer perfect replication of group think at nearly zero cost. It escalates quickly.
White American Christian men out of work or in low paying jobs did not vote for Donald Trump because he promised them financial succour, they voted Trump because of a primordial need to preserve their status as a dominant cohort in society while faced with a tidal wave of multicultural migration, says Mutz.
Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
— one of the world's most-cited scientific journals — Mutz’s research punctures the dominant explanation behind the results of the 2016 presidential election — that “working class voters rose up in opposition to being left behind economically and those who lost jobs or experienced stagnant wages purportedly punished the incumbent party.”
White American Christian men out of work or in low paying jobs did not vote for Donald Trump because he promised them financial succour, they voted Trump because of a primordial need to preserve their status as a dominant cohort in society while faced with a tidal wave of multicultural migration.
Mutz takes us back to Obama’s second term to rummage in the data and figure out what changed.
Voters’ opinions did not change from 2011 to 2016, says Mutz.
So what did? The sway of race, religion and immigration over other themes shifted. Opinions remained the same, positions on issues held stable, it’s the weightage that voters attributed to each of these issues that tipped the balance, says Mutz.
Here are the top takeaways from the Diana Mutz paper:
- The results of the 2016 US election speaks to preeminence of the herd instinct rather than individual bias in political preferences.
- Despite the Donald Trump administration’s well articulated dislike of the Obama legacy, the 2016 election result was less about the legacy of a black President. “It was a result of anxiety about dominant groups’ future status rather than a result of being overlooked in the past.”
- Many decades of research says those who lose jobs don’t whine about government policy for their personal misfortune. They don’t politicise it, says Mutz. Yes, the 2008 crash put millions out of work but the force of group fear over demographic shifts proved far more powerful than economic hardship, says Mutz. Whites will continue to be the most well-off racial group but in about 25 years more, their numerical strength will be on the wane.
- The left behind narrative to explain the 2016 election win is misguided, says Mutz. Politicians who continue to push that theory and craft policies around it will be fooling themselves. Because the left behind theory is fundamentally flawed, policies that embrace it will not assuage the psychological fears of white Americans, says Mutz.
- Mutz claims that the notion of economic hardship headlining Trump’s victory took hold because America’s rust belt was both crucial for Trump’s victory and was struggling to recover from job losses. While the rust belt voted Trump, it wasn’t because of its economic plight, says Mutz. The reasons were born of political tribalism.
- By 2016, the Obama government’s repair job on the economy was paying off. Jobs were on the rebound and unemployment was low. Moreover, Mutz leans on research that shows people rarely let their personal finance woes decide their vote.
- Deep seated cultural bias and aversion to America’s browning swung the Trump win. Politicos who fail to accept this and continue throwing policy crumbs to the public won’t get very far.
And it’s not only the whites who feel they are under attack. “In America today, every group feels threatened, writes Yale Law School professor Amy Chua in a new book, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
As long as white Americans believe that minorities think of them as “majoritarian pigs,” the white man’s patriotism, says Chua, gets tied up with a need for whites to control the country’s politics, culture and identity.
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