Why We Shouldn't Simplify Donald Trump's Voter Appeal

August 19th 2016

Kyle Jaeger

The rise of Donald Trump isn't inexplicable — but explaining his voter appeal isn't as simple as some political analysts have made it out to be, either. Less than 100 days from Election Day, many on the left still seem convinced that Trump voters are either racist or economically despondent. That's not quite the case, says reporter Chris Arnade.


Arnade has spent the last few years traveling around the U.S., meeting voters from all walks of life. He told ATTN: that the tendency to simplify Trump's appeal — the "racism" versus "economic anxiety" debate — creates a "false binary" that fails to account for the "historical, social, [and] economic context" that have contributed to these trends.

In 13 tweets, Arnade puts the "racism" versus "economic anxiety" debate into context.

So where did these simplified theories about Trump's appeal come from?

If you look at the demographic breakdown of Trump's supporters and the issues they consider most important, it's easy to reach generalized conclusions about the nominee's voter appeal. Trump supporters tend to be white, working class men who worry about job opportunity and national security and trust that the nominee's business acumen will set America back on the path to economic prosperity. So economic anxiety must be at the heart of his appeal, right?


Not exactly. In fact, a new survey from Gallup found that voters who view Trump favorably "have not been disproportionately affected by foreign trade or immigration, compared with people with unfavorable views of the Republican presidential nominee," The Washington Post reports. On average, they don't have lower incomes or higher rates of unemployment than those who view Trump unfavorably, either.

Got it. So Trump supporters are just racist then, right?

Arnade doesn't deny that many of Trump's supporters hold racist views — and that the nominee's tendency to espouse nationalist sentiment in his campaign rhetoric has attracted some racist voters. (A 2016 Pew poll found that 17 percent of Trump supporters actually think diversity makes America worse.) But he emphasizes the importance of looking at this trend in a broader socioeconomic context.


Arnade says the tendency of pundits to obsess over singular explanations for Trump's appeal reflects an elitist worldview that puts too much stock into voter data and polling.

While Trump has fallen behind his opponent Hillary Clinton in national polls over the past few weeks, 41 percent of voters still support him to Clinton's 47 percent, according to Real Clear Politics. That's a lot of Americans, and efforts to explain away his appeal in a linear way ignores the complex socioeconomic factors that have given rise to Trump this election season.


Still, after having talked to so many Trump supporters over the year, I wanted to know if Arnade had any theories about the nominee's appeal that the media hasn't given enough attention to, as far as he's concerned. It's never as simple as pointing to one factor, of course, but he says Trump supporters seem to be united by a collective interest in "breaking the system."

Trump supporters have lost faith in the political establishment, which they feel has benefited certain groups while ignoring their concerns. That frustration has reached a tipping point — and to Trump supporters, the nominee's anti-establishment platform represents an opportunity to dismantle the existing system and rebuild it from the ground up, Arnade says.

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