Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

The White Working Class and the 2016 Election

  • Nicholas Carnes and Noam Lupu

Abstract

Academics and political pundits alike attribute rising support for right-wing political options across advanced democracies to the working classes. In the United States, authors claim that the white working class offered unprecedented and crucial support for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. But what is the evidence for this claim? We examine all of the available academic survey data gathered around the election, along with a number of surveys from prior elections. We test four common claims about the white working class in 2016: (1) that most Trump voters were white working-class Americans; (2) that most white working-class voters supported Trump; (3) that unusually large numbers of white working-class voters switched from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016; and (4) that white working-class voters were pivotal to Trump’s victory in several swing states. We find that three of the four are not supported by the available data, and the other lacks crucial context that casts doubt on the idea that Trump uniquely appealed to working-class Americans. White working-class Americans have been supporting Republican presidential candidates at higher rates in recent elections, but that process long predates 2016, and narratives that center on Trump’s alleged appeal obscure this important long-term trend.

Copyright

Footnotes

Hide All

A list of permanent links to Supplemental Materials provided by the authors precedes the References section.

*

Data replication sets are available in Harvard Dataverse at: https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/N8ELFU

For their comments and advice, we are grateful to Larry Bartels, Josh Clinton, John Sides, and three anonymous reviewers.

Footnotes

References

Hide All
Adorf, Philipp. 2018. “A New Blue-Collar Force: The Alternative for Germany and the Working Class.” German Politics and Society 36(4): 29-49.
Atkeson, Lonna Rae. 1999. “‘Sure, I Voted for the Winner!’ Overreport of the Primary Vote for the Party Nominee in the National Election Studies.” Political Behavior 21(3): 197-215.
Bartels, Larry M. 2000. “Panel Effects in the American National Election Studies.” Political Analysis 8(1): 120.
Bartels, Larry M. 2006. “What’s the Matter with What’s the Matter with Kansas?Quarterly Journal of Political Science 1(2): 201-26.
Bartels, Larry M., and Cramer, Katherine J.. 2019. “The Political Impact of Economic Change: The Class of ’65 Meets the ‘New Gilded Age’.” Unpublished manuscript. (https://faculty.polisci.wisc.edu/kwalsh2/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/bartels.cramer.mpsaFINAL-1.pdf).
Belli, Robert F., Traugott, Michael W., Young, Margaret, and McGonagle, Katherine A.. 1999. “Reducing Vote Overreporting in Surveys: Social Desirability, Memory Failure, and Source Monitoring.” Public Opinion Quarterly 63(1): 90-108.
Bhambra, Gurminder K. 2017. “Brexit, Trump, and ‘Methodological Whiteness’: On the Misrecognition of Race and Class.” British Journal of Sociology 68(S1): S214-32.
Brownstein, Ronald. 2015. “The Billionaire Candidate and His Blue-Collar Following.” The Atlantic, September 11.
Brownstein, Ronald 2016. “Trump Wins by Breaching Democrats’ ‘Blue Wall’ in Rust Belt.” National Journal, November 9.
Carnes, Nicholas. 2013. White-Collar Government: The Hidden Role of Class in Economic Policy Making. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Carnes, Nicholas 2018. The Cash Ceiling: Why Only the Rich Run for Office--and What We Can Do About It. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Carnes, Nicholas, and Lupu, Noam. 2015. “Rethinking the Comparative Perspective on Class and Representation: Evidence from Latin America.” American Journal of Political Science 59(1): 1-18.
Carnes, Nicholas, and Lupu, Noam. 2016a. “Do Voters Dislike Working-Class Candidates? Voter Biases and the Descriptive Underrepresentation of the Working Class.” American Political Science Review 110(4): 832-844.
Carnes, Nicholas, and Lupu, Noam. 2016b. “Why Trump’s appeal is wider than you might think.” MSNBC online, April 8. (http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/why-trumps-appeal-wider-you-might-think).
Carnes, Nicholas, and Lupu, Noam. 2017. “It’s Time to Bust the Myth: Most Trump Voters Were Not Working Class.” The Washington Post, June 5.
Cramer, Kathy. 2016. The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of the Scott Walker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Devega, Chauncey. 2017. “Can We Finally Kill Off the Zombie Lie? Trump’s Voters Mostly Weren’t the ‘White Working Class’.” Salon, June 7.
Douthat, Ross. 2018. “A Defeat for White Identity.” New York Times, November 10.
Enten, Harry. 2018. “It Makes Perfect Sense That Roseanne Is a Trump Voter.” CNN, March 29.
Erikson, Robert S., and Wlezien, Christopher. 2012. The Timeline of Presidential Elections: How Campaigns Do (and Do Not) Matter. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Fiorina, Morris P. 2017. Unstable Majorities: Polarization, Party Sorting, and Political Stalemate. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press.
Flanagan, Brendan. 2019. “Democrats Must Win Back Working-Class Voters.” RealClearPolitics, December 5. (https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2019/12/05/democrats_must_win_back_working-class_voters_141884.html).
Flood, Sarah, King, Miriam, Rodgers, Renae, Ruggles, Steven, and Warren, J. Robert. 2018. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series, Current Population Survey: Version 6.0 [dataset]. Minneapolis, MN: IPUMS, 2018. https://doi.org/10.18128/D030.V6.0.
Foreman, Tynesha, and Pollock, Nicolas. 2017. “Why the White, Working Class Voted for Trump.” The Atlantic, May 12.
Fraga, Bernard L., Schaffner, Brian, Rhodes, Jesse, and McElwee, Sean. 2017. “Why Did Trump Win? More Whites⸺and Fewer Blacks⸺Actually Voted.” The Washington Post, May 8.
Francis, Robert D. 2018. “Him, Not Her: Why Working-class White Men Reluctant about Trump Still Made Him President of the United States.” Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World 4:1-11.
Frank, Thomas. 2016. “Millions of Ordinary Americans Support Donald Trump. Here’s Why.” The Guardian, March 7.
Frankel, Laura Lazarus, and Hillygus, D. Sunshine. 2014. “Looking beyond Demographics: Panel Attrition in the ANES and GSS.” Political Analysis 22(3): 336–53.
Fukuyama, Francis. 2018. Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Gelman, Andrew. 2009. Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Gest, Justin, Reny, Tyler, and Mayer, Jeremy. 2018. “Roots of the Radical Right: Nostalgic Deprivation in the United States and Britain.” Comparative Political Studies 51(13): 1694-719.
Goodwin, Mathew J., and Heath, Oliver. 2016. “The 2016 Referendum, Brexit and the Left Behind: An Aggregate-level Analysis of the Result.” Political Quarterly 87(3): 323-32.
Green, Jon, and McElwee, Sean. 2019. “The Differential Effects of Economic Conditions and Racial Attitudes in the Election of Donald Trump.” Perspectives on Politics 17(2): 359-77.
Harris, John. 2016. “Britain Is in the Midst of a Working-Class Revolt.” The Guardian, June 17.
Healy, Patrick. 2018. “Roseanne Conner Has Become a Trump Supporter. Just Like Her Creator.” New York Times, March 27.
Hobolt, Sara B. 2016. “The Brexit Vote: A Divided Nation, a Divided Continent.” Journal of European Public Policy 23(9): 1259-77.
Hout, Michael, Manza, Jeff, and Brooks, Clem. 1995. “The Democratic Class Struggle in the United States, 1948–1992.” American Sociological Review 60: 805–28.
Kitschelt, Herbert P., and Rehm, Philipp. 2019. “Secular Partisan Realignment in the United States: The Socioeconomic Reconfiguration of White Partisan Support Since the New Deal Era.” Politics & Society 47(3): 425-97.
Lamont, Michèle, Park, Bo Yun, and Ayala-Hurtado, Elena. 2017. “Trump’s electoral speeches and his appeal to the American white working class.” British Journal of Sociology 68(S1): S153-S180.
Leonhardt, David. 2018. “Yes, the Economy Helped Elect Trump.” The New York Times, May 8.
Lipset, Seymour Martin. 1959. “Democracy and Working-Class Authoritarianism.” American Sociological Review 24(4): 482-501.
Lopez, Jesse, and Hillygus, D. Sunshine. 2018. “Why So Serious? Survey Trolls and Misinformation.” Unpublished manuscript. (https://ssrn.com/abstract=3131087).
Masket, Seth. 2018. “Learning from Loss? How Interpretations of the Last Election Affect the Next One.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston, August 29–September 2.
Manza, Jeff, and Crowley, Ned. 2017. “Working Class Hero? Interrogating the Social Bases of the Rise of Donald Trump.” The Forum 15(1): 3-28.
McElwee, Jesse H. Rhodes, Schaffner, Brian F., and Fraga, Bernard L.. 2018. “The Missing Obama Millions.” The New York Times, March 10.
McQuarrie, Michael. 2017. “The Revolt of the Rust Belt: Place and Politics in the Age of Anger.” British Journal of Sociology 68(S1): S120-S152.
Mény, Yves. 2017. “A Tale of Party Primaries and Outsider Candidates: The 2017 French Presidential Election.” French Politics 15(3): 265-78.
Monnat, Shannon M., and Brown, David L.. 2017. “More Than a Rural Revolt: Landscapes of Despair and the 2016 Presidential Election.” Journal of Rural Studies 55:227-36.
Morgan, Stephen. 2018. “Status Threat, Material Interests, and the 2016 Presidential Vote.” Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World 4:1-17.
Morgan, Stephen L., and Lee, Jiwon. 2017. “The White Working Class and Voter Turnout in U.S. Presidential Elections, 2004 to 2016.” Sociological Science 4: 656-85.
Morgan, Stephen L., and Lee, Jiwon. 2018. “Trump Voters and the White Working Class.” Sociological Science 5: 234-45.
Mutz, Diana C. 2018a. “Status Threat, Not Economic Hardship, Explains the 2016 Presidential Vote.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115(19): E4330-E4339.
Mutz, Diana C. 2018b. “Response to Morgan: On the Role of Status Threat and Material Interests in the 2016 Election.” Socius. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F2378023118808619.
Newkirk, Vann R. II. 2016. “Simply Repealing Obamacare Will Hurt the White Working Class.” The Atlantic, November 22.
Ogorzalek, Thomas, Piston, Spencer, and Forthcoming, Luisa Godine Puig. “Nationally Poor, Locally Rich: Income and Local Context in the 2016 Presidential Election.” Electoral Studies. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.electstud.2019.102068.
Reich, Robert. 2015. “The Real Reason Donald Trump Appeals to Working-Class Whites.” Salon, November 10. (https://www.salon.com/2015/11/10/robert_reich_the_real_reason_donald_trump_appeals_to_working_class_whites_partner/).
Reny, Tyler T., Collingwood, Loren, and Valenzuela, Ali A.. 2019. “Vote Switching in the 2016 Election: How Racial and Immigration Attitudes, Not Economics, Explain Shifts in White Voting.” Public Opinion Quarterly 83(1): 91-113.
Rodden, Jonathan. 2017. “‘Red’ America Is an Illusion. Postindustrial Towns Go for Democrats.” The Washington Post, February 14.
Rothenberg, Stuart. 2019. “Why Working-Class Whites Aren’t Giving Up on Trump.” Roll Call, September 10. (https://www.rollcall.com/news/campaigns/learning-lessons-about-working-class-whites).
Rubin, Jennifer. 2018. “The Suburbs, Women, Some Working-Class Whites and Now Even a Swamp Creature Abandon Trump.” The Washington Post, December 12.
Sargent, Greg. 2017. “Donald Trump Will Likely Betray His White Working-Class Voters.” The Washington Post, February 23.
Schaffner, Brian F., MacWilliams, Matthew, and Tatishe, Nteta. 2018. “Understanding White Polarization in the 2016 Vote for President: The Sobering Role of Racism and Sexism.” Political Science Quarterly 133(1): 9-34.
Sherer, Jennifer. 2017. “Midwest Labor and the Working-Class Vote: The Case of Iowa.” Labor Studies Journal 42(3): 245-50.
Sides, John, Tesler, Michael, and Vavreck, Lynn. 2018. Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Silver, Nate. 2016. “The Mythology of Trump’s ‘Working Class’ Support.” FiveThirtyEight, May 3. (https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-mythology-of-trumps-working-class-support/).
Smith, David Norman, and Hanley, Eric. 2018. “The Anger Games: Who Voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 Election, and Why?Critical Sociology 44(2): 195-212.
Stonecash, Jeffrey M. 2017. “The Puzzle of Class in Presidential Voting.” The Forum 15(1): 29-49.
Tavernise, Sabrina, and Gebeloff, Robert. 2018. “They Voted for Obama, Then Went for Trump. Can Democrats Win Them Back?New York Times, May 4.
Tourangeau, Roger, Rips, Laurence J., and Rasinski, Kenneth. 2000. The Psychology of the Survey Response. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
van Elsas, Erika J., Lubbe, Rozemarijn, van der Meer, Tom W.G., and van der Brug, Wouter. 2014. “Vote Recall: A Panel Study on the Mechanisms That Explain Vote Recall Inconsistency.” International Journal of Public Opinion Research 26(1): 18-40.
Waldahl, Ragnar, and Aardal, Bernt. 2002. “The Accuracy of Recalled Previous Voting: Evidence from Norwegian Election Study Panels.” Scandinavian Political Studies 23(4): 373-89.
Weeden, Kim A., and Grusky, David B.. 2005. “The Case for a New Class Map.” American Journal of Sociology 111(1): 141212.
Wright, Erik Olin. 1997. “Rethinking, Once Again, the Concept of Class Structure.” In Reworking Class, ed. Hall, John. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Wright, Gerald C. 1993. “Errors in Measuring Vote Choice in the National Election Studies, 1952–88.” American Journal of Political Science 37(1): 291-316.
Zitner, Aaron and Chinni, Dante. 2015. “Rust Belt Could Be Donald Trump’s Best Route to White House.” Wall Street Journal, March 6.
Type Description Title
UNKNOWN
Supplementary materials

Carnes and Lupu Dataset
Dataset

 Unknown
WORD
Supplementary materials

Carnes and Lupu supplementary material
Online Appendix

 Word (720 KB)
720 KB

The White Working Class and the 2016 Election

  • Nicholas Carnes and Noam Lupu

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.