Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Community Well-being and Donald Trump's Overperformance in 2016

An analysis by Shannon M. Monnat at the Pennsylvania State University takes a rather interesting look at the reasons why Donald Trump succeeded in his journey to the White House when Mitt Romney failed in 2012.  The link between despair in the "heartland of America" and voting patterns is of particular importance given the widening gap between the haves and have-nots in the United States.

Dr. Monnat's study looks at two key issues:

1.) the relationship between county-level mortality rates from drugs, alcohol and suicide in the years between 2006 and 2014 and voting patterns in the 2016 Presidential Election.

2.) the relationship between economic distress and voting patterns in the 2016 Presidential Election.

The study focuses on the three regions where drug abuse has become a critical issue; Appalachia, New England and the Industrial Midwest.  The analysis looks at the data from a total of 3106 counties in all three regions, comparing the results for the Republican presidential candidate from the 2016 election, Donald Trump, to that of the 2012 election where Mitt Romney was the Republican candidate of choice.  Where Donald Trump bettered his 2012 Republican counterpart, the author terms this difference the "Trump overperformance".

As background, Dr. Monnat's research found that there is a clear link between average drug, alcohol and suicide mortality rates and economic distress and working class representation.  Mortality rates are lowest in the least economically distressed counties and highest in the most economically distressed counties in both metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties. 

Here is a summary graphic showing the average Trump overperformance for the nation as a whole and the three aforementioned regions along with the data showing the mortality rate from drugs, alcohol and suicide (divided by quartile):


As you can see, in all three regions, Donald Trump's overperformance over Mitt Romney rose as the mortality rate from drugs, alcohol and suicide increases.  This is particularly the case in the former industrial heartland where Trump did better than Romney by an average of 16.7 percent in the counties with the highest mortality rates.  We can also see that, while Trump did worse than Romney in the lowest mortality counties in New England, he did up to 9.8 percent better in counties with the highest mortality rates.

The author goes on to look at the link between economic distress and the size of the working class cohort for each county in the three regions.  This is particularly pertinent given the gutting of the former industrial heartland of the United States, the decline in the manufacturing sector of New England and the ongoing struggles with poverty and chronic unemployment in Appalachia.

Here is a summary graphic showing the average Trump overperformance for the nation as a whole and the three regions with the data showing the level of economic distress and the size of the working class:


In all three regions as well as the entire nation, Donald Trump's outperformance over Mitt Romney rose as both economic distress and the working class population increases.  The region with the greatest impact of economic distress on voting patterns was New England.  In the counties with the least economic distress and the smallest working class, Trump actually did substantially worse than Romney.  However, in the New England counties with the highest economic distress, Trump outperformed Romney by an average of 14.7 percent and, in the New England counties with the largest working class population, Trump outperformed Romney by 18 percent.  As well, as you can see in the data from the Industrial Midwest, Trump outperformed Romney by an average of 16.3 percent in the most economically distressed counties compared to only 6.2 percent in the least economically distressed counties.  In all three regions as well as the entire nation, Trump's outperformance grows as both economic distress and the working class population increases.

Here is the author's conclusion:

"This research contributes important insights into the complex economic, social, and political forces that combined to produce the unexpected outcome of the 2016 Presidential election.  Clearly there is an association between drug, alcohol and suicide mortality and Trump's election performance.  However, this relationship should not be interpreted as causal...What these analyses demonstrate is that community-level well-being played an important role in the 2016 election, particularly in the parts of America far-removed from the world of urban elites, media, and foundations."


How profound.  Unfortunately, the Democrats seemed completely ignorant of the plight of tens of millions of potential Clinton voters whereas Donald Trump seemed to know exactly who his target audience was.

3 comments:

  1. Complex? It's the economy.

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  2. Well researched.I concur with Political Junkie.SS@pristinebluesky

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  3. Not surprising at all. They were hurting worse than ever and knew no one cared about them (and let's be brutally honest here, no one that has the power to change things really does) But if you're drowning and have only straws, you grasp at straws.

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