Data Wonk

What Do Trump’s Voters Want?

Data provides clear picture of Trump country. Democrats may need new policies.

By - Dec 21st, 2016 02:02 pm
Donald Trump. Image from campaign website.

Donald Trump. Image from campaign website.

The recent election pointed out the growing divide in American politics—and American society. What do we know about the Trump voters, what motivates them, and what Democrats can do to reduce that polarization?

Data developed by the Brookings Institution is useful in gaining a geographical picture. The chart below has dots for over 3,000 counties. Counties won by Donald Trump are shown in red and those won by Hillary Clinton in blue. The vertical scale shows the percentage of people who live in urban areas versus those in areas classified as rural.

The horizontal axis shows county populations. Note that this scale is logarithmic, so that every vertical line marks a population ten times larger than the previous line.

County Winners

County Winners

Clinton completely dominated counties with large cities. Unfortunately for her, Trump took a commanding lead in rural areas and those with smaller cities. Compared to the 2000 BushGore race, a higher percentage of counties went Republican, as shown in the next graph.

Number of counties won

Number of counties won

297 counties that had supported Gore shifted to Trump, while 110 moved in the other direction. The counties moving to Trump were much smaller, representing seven percent of the US population. Those shifting to Clinton were substantially larger, containing 15 percent of the population. (And Clinton’s popular vote margin was much larger than Gore’s.)

The same pattern was repeated in Wisconsin. Comparing Wisconsin’s two-party 2016 election results to those from 2012, Trump’s percentage vote was higher in almost every county than was Mitt Romney’s. In the next graph, counties above the zero per cent horizontal line are counties where Trump got a higher percentage of the vote than did Romney. Only in Dane, Milwaukee, and the two Milwaukee suburban counties of Waukesha and Ozaukee did Trump lag Romney.

The graph also plots the Trump jump against each county’s average weekly wage. The dotted line plots the trend: the lower the wage, the more Trump gained on Romney. Despite considerable scatter, the relationship is statistically significant and accounts for about 30 percent of the variation.

Trump's Vote Share vs Romney's

Trump’s Vote Share vs Romney’s

Another indicator of this effect comes from the Brookings study already mentioned. The chart below shows the fraction of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from US counties voting for each presidential candidate in the 2000 and 2016 elections. In 2000 the Gore and Bush counties were nearly equal economically. This year the differences are far more extreme. The most prosperous and productive counties are much more likely to fall in the Democratic camp. The result of this re-sorting is counties won by Clinton accounted for 64 percent of the nation’s GDP. (Note that because 2015 GDP was used for both elections, this difference is due to the realignment of counties, not to better GDP growth since 2000 in the Clinton counties.)

Fraction of US GDP

Fraction of US GDP

A look at the counties switching from one party to the other underlines the magnitude of this sorting. Those counties moving from Republican to Democratic were substantially bigger—an average of 419,000 people, compared to 68,000 in those counties moving in the opposite direction. The counties moving to Clinton were also more successful economically. They contributed 18 percent of GDP, compared to 15 percent of the population. Counties moving to Trump contributed 5 percent of GDP compared to 7 percent of population. What is behind this shift?

In 1942, Joseph Schumpeter coined the term “creative destruction” to refer to the way capitalism continually destroyed existing enterprises and replaced them with new ones. In his view, and that of most economists, this process has a net benefit to society, allowing progress to occur. Without creative destruction, new enterprises would be starved for resources.

Unfortunately, particularly in the short run, the process creates losers as well as winners. To an unprecedented degree, Trump country is defined by regions that have lost out in recent economic changes.

Trump won by promising relief. His plan consisted of seven points, four aimed at cutting imports and three at increasing the use of fossil fuels and rolling back plans to combat climate change. He called it “Seven actions to protect American workers”:

  1. Renegotiate or withdraw from NAFTA
  2. Withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership
  3. Direct the Secretary of the Treasury to label China a currency manipulator.
  4. Direct the Secretary of Commerce and U.S. Trade Representative to identify all foreign trading abuses that unfairly impact American workers and direct them to use every tool under American and international law to end those abuses immediately
  5. Lift the restrictions on the production of American energy reserves, including shale, oil, natural gas and clean coal
  6. Lift restrictions on energy infrastructure projects, like the Keystone Pipeline
  7. Cancel billions in payments to U.N. climate change programs and use the money to fix America’s water and environmental infrastructure

The underlying assumption behind this plan is that the pain felt in Trump country is mainly due to unfair trade deals and hostility to fossil fuels. Change those and the jobs will come back.

The Trump plan has generated little enthusiasm among economists. Shortly after the election, the University of Chicago’s IGM Economist survey asked its panel of economists at major research universities to respond to the following statement:

If all of the “Seven actions to protect American workers” in President-elect Trump’s 100-day plan (see link) are enacted, it will more likely than not improve the economic prospects of middle-class Americans over the next decade.

Of those expressing an opinion, 93 percent disagreed; none agreed. This was consistent with a previous October survey. In it, the statement “Adding new or higher import duties on products such as air conditioners, cars, and cookies — to encourage producers to make them in the US — would be a good idea,“ also generated no support.

Whether or not Trump’s plan would be effective, he did emphatically address the major concern in Trump country: the disappearance of good jobs. This concern comes through in the interviews that Katherine Cramer Walsh has conducted in small Wisconsin towns. (See this article and this interview.)

By comparison, consider this list of proposals from a fundraising letter from Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington): “raising the minimum wage, fighting for equal pay for equal work, fighting wage theft, making child care affordable and accessible to every family, and so much more… .“ None of these proposals are designed to create jobs. They may make a job better, but if a company has moved in the search for lower-cost employees, some may be regarded as discouraging jobs. Similarly in her economic plan, Clinton tended to talk around the issue of jobs creation.

In economic policy the next two years present the Democrats with an opportunity to develop policies that will directly address the issue of bringing jobs to Trump country. Being out of power provides a time to develop credible plans.

23 thoughts on “Data Wonk: What Do Trump’s Voters Want?”

  1. Jason says:

    Forgotten lives matter. Trump with all his warts listened. He may not provide everything he promised to the rust belt, but he did hear voices that the establishments chose not to hear.

  2. Vincent Hanna says:

    Come on Jason. Are you really that naive? Newt just said Trump didn’t really mean drain the swamp. He played those voters. He said what they wanted to hear knowing full well he didn’t mean any of it. He isn’t going to do anything to help them. He’ll look after the same people he is surrounding himself with, other old rich white men. That’s who he is, that’s who he cares about. Wake up man.

  3. Jason says:

    Vince, you should be comforted by your statement, since Bayside, River hills, Shorewood, Whitefish bay and Glendale voted for Abele and Clinton. Rich, white people will do okay. Stay fat cat.

  4. Vincent Hanna says:

    I am not rich Jason, and of course I’m not OK with that. Is he everyone’s president or just rich white people? Doesn’t it bother you that he isn’t doing anything to drain the swamp, and is actually refilling it? He will be in violation of the Constitution the second he takes the oath of office. Conservatives are supposed to bow to the Constitution. If he were a Democrat they’d be losing their minds and demanding impeachment. Will you be demanding impeachment?

  5. Jason says:

    Vince your out of touch political friends dont pay income taxes, so I am sure Democrats will want to see higher income taxes. Riverhills and those millionaire democrats rejoice.

  6. Tom D says:

    Trump isn’t draining the swamp. He’s expanding it and adding a water park.

  7. Vincent Hanna says:

    Jason why can’t you answer simple and direct questions? I have no rich friends. I don’t know anyone in River Halls. I have no idea what you’re blathering about. If you aren’t here to engage in discussion, are you just a troll? Do us all a favor and stay away from here if you have no interest in doing anything but trolling. If your only goal in life is to be an asshole on the Internet, you are succeeding admirably.

  8. Jason says:

    Adult white males make up 18 percent of the national voting public. Could it be democratic policy expired in 2016, and other groups didn’t want to buy what the donkey’s were selling.

  9. Jason says:

    Vince, Trump is not even president and you are already stating he is breaking his promises brought up rich white people. I was just stating hedge fun guys, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Riverhills and Chris Abele are all Democratic masters.

  10. Vincent Hanna says:

    Because he is already breaking promises! I am stating facts. Sorry if that is hard for you. River Hills is a Democratic master? No idea what that means. And you never participate in a discussion. You never answer direct questions. It makes one wonder why you’re here. Troll somewhere else if you don’t want to engage.

  11. happyjack27 says:

    Jason, we know for certain that democratic policy expired in 2016, and other groups didn’t want to buy what the donkey’s were selling, because, adult white males make up 18 percent of the national voting public.

  12. happyjack27 says:

    Trump is draining the swamp: into the White House. He’s using it as a septic tank.

  13. happyjack27 says:

    Jason: You could be more direct and ask: How could Trump be breaking promises if he’s not even president yet? The answer to that is his cabinet choices, among other things.

  14. Jason says:

    Democrats Christmas list, Hollywood check. New York City home of the wall street wealth, check. K-12 and all educational institutions, check. Almost all private media and all NPR media, check. Donald Trump who in most cases would appear to be part of the Democratic elite but was rejected due to his lack of political correctness. Can I now say Merry Christmas with out the left hissing.? I will back down, Happy Holidays!!

  15. Jason says:

    Another institution you Dems can be thankful for is corporate America. Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan Chase. Democrats lead the top Companies in the SP 500 based on market cap.

  16. Tom D says:

    Jason (post 16), I’m truly not sure what point you are trying to make, but you didn’t even list the top companies in the S&P 500. You omitted Exxon Mobil, Johnson & Johnson, and GE.

    Also, the S&P 500 only includes publicly traded companies and therefore omits the elephant in the room—right-wing Koch Industries, which is, BY FAR, the most politically active large corporation.

  17. Vincent Hanna says:

    Gee whiz Jason I wonder why Trump was rejected? I wonder why Democrats didn’t want any part of a man who has been endorsed by the KKK and wants to register people based on their religion. Who admires the likes of Putin (Reagan is rolling over in his grave). So hard to understand why they rejected someone like that.

    I say Merry Christmas all the time Jason. That you believe otherwise is funny and means you need to stop watching Fox News so much. Merry Christmas to Wisconsin’s Carl Paladino, Jason from Glendale!

  18. Steve says:

    Wow. Maybe someone could comment on the actual data being analyzed. I feel informed by some of the facts that seemed unclear before Bruce s interesting summary. Apparently, suburban voters were less enthralled with T than I had supposed. Educational level seems the biggest determinant. Perhaps reliance on fact-challenged information sources, and lack of critical thinking experience allowed dubious promises and unlikely solutions to gain more credence than in past elections. I for one will be interested in whether the next 4 years results in more reality based proposals, or a deepening of the rhetorical trench. Frankly, I felt that media such as NPR and PBS fell way short of journalistic focus, and the Clinton did much to denigrate our fellow citizens and little to challenge them to think more deeply and less emotionally. Her message seemed like demographic self aggrandizement in a way not dissimilar to T. Most surprising to me is the movement of some Obama supporters into the T column. He certainly failed to make the case for the obstructionist and uncaring Republican Congress’s responsibility for gridlock in Washington.

  19. happyjack27 says:

    “I for one will be interested in whether the next 4 years results in more reality based proposals, or a deepening of the rhetorical trench.”

    Really?!? That’s a plausible scenario in your mind?!? “more reality based proposals”?!? Have you HEARD trump speak? Have you SEEN his cabinet appointments?

    I just can’t take that comment seriously.

  20. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    There are few things more fun this Christmas, then tuning into this Leftie site, and listen to them all whine for the next 16 years, Hope I live that long. Conservatives control everything except Milwaukee, MPS which is disaster.

  21. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    Trump gets things done!!! Looks at his buildings. That really scares the Left.

  22. happyjack27 says:

    We’re all concerned about what things he will get done. Destroying science. Destroying LGBT equality. Destroying diplomacy, Destroying ethics. Draining the swamp into the white house. Removing basic labor laws such as minimum wage. etc. Conservatives should be afraid, too. It effects them more than Democrats – the Red states are the ones that with the lowest equality, the lowest mean income, the lowest STEM education levels, etc. They will be impacted the hardest.

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