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News > World

Identity Issues May Have Made White Voters Switch to Trump

  • Voters cast their votes during the U.S. presidential election in Elyria, Ohio, U.S., on November 8, 2016.

    Voters cast their votes during the U.S. presidential election in Elyria, Ohio, U.S., on November 8, 2016. | Photo: Reuters

Published 13 June 2017

New studies attempt to analyse why people flipped their ballots in last year's election.

U.S. voters who supported then-President Barack Obama in 2012 but backed Donald Trump four years later may have been driven by their cultural attitudes and economic anxiety.

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A new report by the Voter Study Group based its findings on a post-election survey of 8,000 Americans who had been previously interviewed in 2011, 2012 and July 2016.

It says that almost 90 percent of voters stuck with their partisan loyalty in last year’s presidential election.

But attitudes about immigration, black people and muslims played a role in motivating white voters to switch their vote from Obama to Trump.

One report accompanying the study, written by George Washington University Professor John Sides, examines how the debate about American identity impacted on voter decisions in 2016. 

By comparing the data from 2012 and 2016, Sides found that “attitudes about immigration, feelings toward black people, and feelings toward muslims became more strongly related to voter decision making in 2016 compared to 2012.”

“The greater salience of attitudes related to race, ethnicity, and religion arguably derives from a campaign far more focused on immigration and the threat of terrorism than the 2012 campaign was,” Sides wrote in the report. 

Under the slogan of “Make America Great Again,” Trump emphasized the importance of keeping alleged threats out of the country.

While his rival, the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton suggested that differences among Americans were an asset and ran with the unifying slogan “Stronger Together.”

About a third of whites who had voted for Obama held views more aligned with Trump.

According to the report, 37 percent of them had a less favorable attitude toward muslims and 33 percent said illegal immigrants were “mostly a drain” on society.

The shift was present among all white voters surveyed, but it was particularly strong among those without a college degree.

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Another paper by Center for American Progress scholars Robert Griffin and Ruy Teixeira found that the economy was not a more significant factor in 2016 than in 2012, but voters’ perceptions of the economy may shape their cultural views.

“Those who experienced negative economic attitudes in 2012 were more likely to express key negative cultural attitudes in 2016 even taking into account their earlier answers to the same questions,” they wrote.

“Voters who experienced increased or continued economic stress were inclined to have become more negative about immigration and terrorism, demonstrating how economic pressures coincided with cultural concerns to produce an outcome that surprised most of us,” said Henry Olsen, the project director for the Voter Study Group and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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