Monday, September 12, 2016

Who Are Donald Trump's Supporters and Are They Really Deplorables?

Hillary Clinton's recent comments to her monied backers at a fundraiser in Manhattan shows her real feelings about Donald Trump's followers.  She stated that:

"You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.  Right?  The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that.  And he has lifted them up.

While this is all very telling about Ms. Clinton's views of non-Democratic Americans, it's not the first time that Ms. Clinton has referred to Donald Trump supporters as "deplorables".  Here's an excerpt from a recent Hillary Clinton appearance on Israeli television:

So, who are these deplorables?  A recent paper, "Explaining Nationalist Political Views: The Case of Donald Trump"  by Jonathan T. Rothwell at Gallup provides us with an interesting glimpse into the individual and geographic factors that are more likely to make Mr. Trump appealing to voters.

As we know, Mr. Trump has built his 2016 campaign on several key issues:

1.) restricting immigration
2.) building a wall along the border with Mexico
3.) preventing Muslims from entering the United States
4.) re-negotiating trade agreements with China and other nations.

His stance on these key issues have magnetically drawn Americans, forming a base that is extremely supportive of Mr. Trump who has led them with the promise that the "American people will come first again".

Jonathan Rothwell's analysis attempts to explain the characteristics of Donald Trump's supporters and test the following hypotheses:

1.) social hardship increases the likelihood that a voter will support Donald Trump.  This can be measured at in two ways; traditional measures of economic hardship including income level and employment status and non-traditional measures like health and intergenerational mobility (i.e. hope for future well-being).

2.) contact with immigrants or racial minorities reduces the likelihood of Donald Trump support.  To measure this, the author analyzes the degree of neighbourhood segregation and distance to the Mexican border.

3.) Exposure to trade competition increases support for Donald Trump.  The author measured this by looking at the share of employment in the manufacturing sector, the sector of the economy that has been most negatively impacted by trade agreements.

The data used for the study was from the Gallup Daily Tracking survey micro data in which 93,207 American adults were asked whether they held a favourable view of Mr. Trump.  Of these, 87,428 responded either "yes" or "no"  Compared to most Gallup surveys where less than 2,000 households are sampled, as you can see, the sample size for this study is very large.

Let's start by looking at where Donald Trump supporters identify themselves on the political spectrum as shown on this table:

Those of any party affiliation who identify with Mr. Trump tend to be politically conservative or very conservative.  The support for Donald Trump even varies widely among those who self-identify as Republican as shown in columns three and four; those Republicans who have a favourable view of Mr. Trump tend to be either very conservative or conservative.  Moderate Republicans are much less likely to support Mr. Trump, in fact, 35.2 percent of moderate Republicans have an unfavourable view of Mr. Trump.

Now let's look at how the perception of economic security impacts support for Donald Trump.  Economic security is measured using Gallup's ten question survey which asks questions like "Do you have enough money to buy the things that you need?" or "Are you watching your spending very closely?".  The higher the score, the less secure the household; for example, a score of 40 percent  would mean that the household responded that they had financial security concerns in 4 out of the 10 questions asked.  Here are the results in categories of household income and the economic anxiety score:

Surprisingly, households at all income levels that are experiencing economic insecurity are more likely to support Donald Trump (i.e. in households with income greater than $200,000, those who support Trump have an economic security score of 42.1 percent  compared to 26.3 percent for those affluent households who have an unfavourable view of Mr. Trump.

Now, let's briefly look at some other social factors that impact the level of support for Donald Trump: 

Employment:  Trump supporters are more likely to be self-employed and somewhat more likely to be unemployed.

Household Income: Trump supporters tend to have higher household incomes among white households except in the case of non-Hispanic Republican households.  This is partly because Republicans, in general, tend to have higher incomes.

Occupation: Trump supporters are far more likely to work in blue collar occupations like production, installation, maintenance and repair, transportation or construction.  Since blue collar and less educated workers have faced increases economic hardships in recent years, this tends to back the data which shows that economic insecurity tends to boost support for Donald Trump.  Interestingly, business owners are more likely to support Trump than service workers and sales workers are more likely to support Trump than clerical workers.  

Race, Ethnicity, Religion and Sexual Orientation: Trump supporters are less likely to be Trump supporters by about 20 percentage points even when income and education are used as controlling factors.  People who live in zip codes with a disproportionate number of white households are significantly more likely to support Donald Trump; a one standard deviation increase in the racial isolation index predicts a 2.9 percentage point increase in Trump support.  Muslims, Jews, Mormons and even atheists are less likely to view Donald Trump as a favourable candidate.  Not terribly surprising, gays and lesbians are also less likely to be Trump supporters.

Geography: There is a strong relationship between the distance to the Mexican border and support for Donald Trump.  A standard deviation decrease in distance to the Mexican border predicts a 1.3 percentage point increase in support for Mr. Trump among white non-Hispanics.  

Middle Age Mortality Rate: Support for Mr. Trump is significantly higher in zones where there is higher white middle-aged mortality rates.  A one standard deviation increase in the mortally rate predicts a 2 percentage point increase in support for Donald Trump.

Education: Support for Mr. Trump can be negatively correlated to the share of the population which has a bachelor's degree.  A one standard deviation increase in the share of people above the age of 25 with a bachelors degree predicts a 3 to 4 percentage point decrease in the level of support for Trump.

There is no doubt that, by and large, Mr. Trump's political views are extreme when compared to the rather vanilla views of recent presidential candidates who have done very little to "rock the political boat", falling into line with their political party's long-held belief systems.   While Mr. Trump represents the right side of the political spectrum, his non-traditional campaign and political platform are as extreme as that of Mr. Sanders who captivated millions of Democrats with his farther to the left-leaning, socialistic platform.  While the study by Rothwell examines the "Trump 2016 Phenomenon", it is interesting to see that American voters have become more entranced by the non-traditional politician in the 2016 cycle than in any other cycle in recent memory.  And that could prove to be problematic for Ms. Clinton's campaign, particularly if she continues to hold fast to her belief that Trump supporters are "deplorables".


  1. Insulting the voters is NEVER a good political strategy, and is a particularly bad strategy for for Hillary Clinton. Hillary is already seen as having an elitist, "I'm better than you" attitude. This just reinforces it. Her "deplorables" remark is similar in scope to Romney's "47%" remark. Romney was also seen as an out of touch elitist and that's why this remark hurt his campaign so much.

  2. In many ways Trump has tied into the "stop globalization" movement which has gained support in developed countries across the world. Currently, the forces against globalization are growing stronger, globalization seems to be a magnet pulling blame for many of the problems we see across the planet.

    This polarizing subject has created some rather strange bedfellows and alliances. A discussion of globalization can include several issues such as, immigration and free trade. Other social concerns also feed into the mix, things like global warming, nationalism, inequality, even population growth. The article below delves into this matter.

  3. Here is a good article about who supports Trump and why.

    1. Thanks for the link. There are many theories out there and I suspect that a good deal of the reason why both Sanders and Trump are getting high levels of support is alienation.

  4. It's funny people get all worked up about deplorable after the vulgar terms Trump has used about Women, Muslims, Mexicans, and other people. Trump has been trashing all sorts of people ever since this election process started. Clinton has only trashed some Republicans for following Trump's idea of what should be done to some people living in America. Trumps ideas of banning a whole group of a certain religion would never pass the Supreme Court.