Category Archives: 2016 election

Scatterplot of counties with % of veterans under 45 and % of Trump vote in 2016, showing a modest correlation.

the post-9/11 wars and Trump

The image that accompanies this post is my graph of US counties.* The y-axis is Trump’s share of the vote in 2016. The x-axis is the percentage of each county’s population that consisted of veterans under the age of 45 in 2020. I chose that statistic as a rough proxy for direct involvement with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The correlation is modestly positive and statistically significant.

When I ran a regression to predict Trump’s 2016 vote in each county based on 1) the proportion of young veterans, 2) the degree to which the county is rural, 3) the proportion of the county that is non-Hispanic white, and 4) the proportion of the population that was born overseas, all of those variables except the last one were statistically significant and positive. That means that, after controlling for race and community type, the proportion of young veterans still predicts the Trump vote.

This is merely a cross-sectional relationship, and it would be worth introducing a temporal dimension by investigating whether and how votes changed as the post-9/11 wars unfolded.

The pattern that I show here is compatible with several hypotheses. For example, maybe some communities’ cultures and demographics inclined them both to military service and to supporting Trump, or maybe deep disillusionment with the wars turned some people toward Trump in 2016 because he purported that he had opposed US involvement.

I will not claim that the basic relationship shown here is very strong, and I share it mainly for full disclosure rather than to support an argumentative position. (I wouldn’t try to use the regression as the basis of a professional article.) Yet I continue to suspect that blowback from two protracted military disasters is one cause of our current political discontents.

Americans’ assessments of these wars are filtered through ideology and probably fall into at least three categories:

  1. The invasion of Iraq was imperialistic and intended to favor multinational corporations; thus it was unjust from the start.
  2. The invasions were altruistic, aimed at exporting human rights and democracy; and as such, they wasted US lives and resources. OR
  3. The defeats represent corruption or decadence that must be addressed by making the USA “stronger.”

Any of those views is compatible with deep distrust of US elites, and perhaps above all of Democratic Party leaders who supported the wars. Meanwhile, MAGA Republicans benefit from both 2 and 3.

*The graph doesn’t display about a dozen outlier counties that have very high veteran populations. See also the 2020 election in the shadow of the Iraq War; the impact of post 9/11 war on our politics, etc.

Options for responding to a Trump Administration

how did we respond? what next?

A few days after the 2016 election, I posted a flowchart with options for responses. It was by far my most-shared post in decades of blogging and was used a fair amount in grassroots meetings between 2016 and 2018.

This is a better version of the same graphic:

Two questions: How much was done in each of these boxes in 2016-18? And what is most important now?

The anti-Trump side did win the next two elections, although by a closer margin in ’20 than some might have expected. I think we observed a complex mix of all the ideas in that column, from changing some voting rules to building new coalitions. However, at the national level, the majority coalition is mainly the same as the one that elected Obama, and not larger as a percentage of the population.

Characterizing Black Lives Matter and climate mobilization as “resistance to Trump” is reductive: those movements were already underway before his election and will continue after, frequently targeting Democrats. Still, the combination of protest and litigation has been pretty effective.

Under “repairing the fabric” are two importantly different paths. Many people have worked hard on both. For examples of work in the cross-partisan lane, see Braver Angels, the Bridge Alliance, the Civic Health Project, and many other groups. Meanwhile, institutions and communities are paying attention to vulnerable people.

Both strategies are very hard, and the main trends are against them. Trauma and affective partisanship have intensified, which doesn’t take anything away from the people who are combatting either or both. The situation might well be even worse without these people, but now is a time to reflect on larger-scale strategies.

The last column is about preserving or changing the “regime.” I didn’t mean that word as pejorative; it’s just political-science talk for the government plus the other institutions that connect to it, such as parties and the media. The current regime survived but is surely fragile–see a recent piece of mine for some reasons.

Which of these paths should we emphasize next? My predictable answer is: all of them. I thought that a Biden administration would face a genuine dilemma: either fighting for valuable political reforms that would be seen as partisan or else reducing partisanship. GOP control of the Senate may simply preclude political reform at the national level, which might be an argument for focusing a four-year Biden administration on lowering the partisan temperature. That doesn’t mean that political reform is dead, because it has potential at the state and city level.

I remain interested in policy approaches that could possibly expand the majority while disrupting partisanship by assembling strange bedfellows. For instance, libertarians should be (and often are) appalled by Trump and can find substantive common ground with left-liberals on some policies, e.g., criminal justice reform.

A related strategy is to emphasize certain bread-and-butter policies that involve the government less in people’s lives while still boosting economic equity. A minimum wage referendum passed in Florida even as Trump won the state. The reason could be that there’s a latent majority for left-economic policies that the Democrats missed by nominating a moderate. (That’s the “Bernie would have won” argument.) A different explanation is that people don’t like the government or taxes, partly because they see the government as the representative of hostile cultural values, but they’re happy to pass unfunded mandates on the private sector. This kind of social policy has promise if the outcomes are actually beneficial.

See also white working class alienation from government; promoting democracy and reducing polarization; some remarks on Elinor Ostrom and police reform; political reform in Massachusetts, etc.

the state versus petit-bourgeois white America

Citizens experience the state in the form of people–teachers, social workers, police officers, nurses and doctors. These may be public employees or just subsidized by public funds, as when doctors get reimbursed by Medicare or professors get some of their salary from federal financial aid and grants. They help, serve, and protect; they also advise, cajole, assess and select, and discipline.

If we expand distributive justice (taxing richer people and spending the money on “government”), then relatively needy people will be confronted with human representatives of the state. These interactions will be friction points, sites of cultural conflict and resistance.

This is a well-known problem that has been discussed for a century. Traditionally, it has a strong class dimension: the state sends mostly college-educated people to both help and discipline working-class people. The state represents norms and ways of life embraced by the dominant social class. (I think this was even the case in the USSR.) In the US, the friction also has a racial dimension, even though white people have always been recipients of government support and surveillance in the US.

I think four strategies have often been proposed to reduce the friction:

  1. Make the state more demographically representative of the people it relates to. For instance, work to enhance the racial diversity of public school teachers, especially when their students are people of color.
  2. Design programs and laws–also train the “street-level bureaucrats” who deliver services–to minimize unnecessary moral superiority, reduce patronizing attitudes, and shift the balance to helping people versus disciplining them. For instance, educators are taught to be sensitive to their students’ backgrounds; social workers have norms against being judgmental.
  3. Organize or train the recipients of government services to stand up for their own rights and values.
  4. Expand cash transfers and other detached forms of redistribution that don’t involve monitoring and changing behavior (as education, policing, public health, and social work do).

None of these strategies has ever been fully successful. But we now see a new dynamic. A significant segment of the population identifies strongly as middle class and culturally mainstream. These are white, Christian people who may have attended college (often without completing BA degrees) and who may own small businesses or work in white-collar settings. They live in smaller towns, exurbs, and rural settings that represent a vision of respectability.

Traditionally, they identified with the state, particularly since they were very well represented in Congress, the state legislatures, and the military. Their typical question was whether or not to spend money on the government, which might waste their tax dollars but might also protect their national security, might genuinely help them without a lot of lecturing (think of agricultural extension workers or locally-controlled public schools), and would discipline other people.

Now this class—white, non-urban, Christian, and petit-bourgeois rather than working class–is in trouble. Obesity, opioid abuse, and suicide are rising to the point that their life-expediencies are falling. In some cases, their communities are losing population. Their traditional economic roles are in peril, and they’re told that their children must live and learn differently to retain their class position.

“Mortality by Cause for White Non-Hispanics Ages 45–54,” from Anne Case & Angus Deaton, PNAS December 8, 2015 112 (49)

The very bad trends depicted in this figure are concentrated among white people without college experience, but those with some college show increasing mortality. It’s only people with BAs or more who have escaped that pattern.

The state arrives to tell them to eat different foods, not to smoke, to raise their children differently. It may seem that the state disagrees with the messages that they hear in church, which they attend to live good lives. The state tells them to send their kids to the state university if they want to stay in the middle class. Their taxes and tuition dollars will pay for people who relate to them as the state has traditionally related to the poor and working class. Professors and student-affairs workers will steer their kids into a new culture that the coastal bourgeoisie has created. From the same universities come the k-12 teachers, nurses, and others who lecture them back in their own communities about food and exercise and carbon emissions. (Here I am indebted to Kathy Cramer, among others.)

When asked whether the government should “do more” (1 on the scale below) or “is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and private business” (5 on the scale), white men have traditionally tilted against government. However, they caught up with white women in their support for government between 2014 and 2016, perhaps because they needed it more. We don’t have 2018 data yet, but we know they voted for Trump that year. This is consistent with needing government but not liking it.

The conflict between petit-bourgeois white people and the state is gendered, because many of the front-line representatives of the government are female, and many of the people with the most counter-normative behavior are men. The conflict is also racial in two respects. First, white, middle class people traditionally distinguished themselves from Americans who needed government aid and guidance, whom they viewed disproportionately as people of color; but that distinction is erased if the middle class also needs help. Second, representatives of the state–especially those who appear on TV–look at least somewhat more racially diverse than white communities do. At the very top of the state structure for eight years was a Black man.

I think these tensions are at the heart of current US politics. Focusing on them challenges both the “economic insecurity” and the “racial resentment” explanations of the 2016 election and its aftermath. A somewhat different premise is that lower-middle-class rural and exurban white Americans are now experiencing the state roughly as poor urban people are used to experiencing it. They need it but don’t like it, because it is always telling them they must change.

I’m not saying that most of them are responding appropriately or wisely, but we might want to dust off our tools for repairing the welfare state: make sure the government employs people who talk and look like those it affects, train them for sensitivity, organize those most affected by the state to push back, and try to shift to cash redistribution instead of invasive behavior-modification.

See also: why the white working class must organizeresponding to the deep story of Trump voterswhat do the Democrats offer the working class?

new CIRCLE report on Millennials’ ideology

CIRCLE has released a new report entitled “Millennials’ Diverse Political Views: A Typology of the Rising Generation.” From the summary:

Millennials are already the largest group of potential voters and are destined to dominate American politics in decades to come. As a demographically and economically diverse generation, they naturally hold a wide range of opinions. In the 2016 election, for example, voters under the age of 30 split their support: 55% percent for Hillary Clinton, 37% for Donald Trump, and 8% for other candidates.

We use recent data to identify clusters of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 into five groups:

  • Activist Egalitarians (39% of Millennials)
  • Participatory Libertarians (29%)
  • Disempowered Egalitarians (8%)
  • Alienated Libertarians (5%)
  • The Lost and Disengaged (18%)

The two egalitarian groups are concerned about social, political, and economic inequality, and they tend to support government action to combat it. The two libertarian groups are concerned about individual freedom and are more skeptical of government. These orientations characterize some, but not all, core characteristics of young people’s beliefs about the size and responsibilities of government, and whether inequality is seen as a major barrier to progress.

Within both the libertarian and the egalitarian sides, there are disagreements about civic engagement. Millennials of all political stripes differ on whether it is useful for people like them to engage with fellow members of their community or with institutions—or both—to change society. Meanwhile, the Lost and Disengaged do not seem sure where they fall, are disconnected from news media, and largely disengaged from civic life.

The largest group, Activist Egalitarians fit an influential stereotype of Millennials. However, they number less than two-fifths (39%) of all Millennials, and are themselves not monolithic. Less than a third (28%) see themselves as liberal or extremely liberal, and 14% see themselves as conservative or extremely conservative. More than half (54%) of Hillary Clinton’s Millennial voters came from this group, but they have mixed feelings about the Democratic Party.

Demographic and Social Differences

There are important demographic and social differences between the groups, particularly related to education and income.

Participatory Libertarians are almost three times as likely to have a college degree as the Lost and Disengaged.

Among the two Egalitarian groups, the Activists are almost twice as likely to have completed college as the Disempowered, more than half of whom have no college experience at all. That a lack of civic efficacy and confidence correlates with these disparities only exacerbates political and social inequalities.

Those who do not believe in the power of people’s collective work in communities and society vary not only on their Egalitarian-Libertarian polarity, but also on why they may not believe that people can make a difference:

Disempowered Egalitarians acutely feel social inequities but may be hopeless that anything could change.

Alienated Libertarians appear to worry about individual prosperity first and foremost and believe that everyone should look out of themselves rather than work with institutions or with each other.

It is encouraging that a majority of young people of diverse ideologies believe that they should work with others to benefit society and communities, and that civic institutions can play a positive role if they are kept accountable. Still, a troublingly sizable minority are unconvinced that they and their fellow citizens can effect change, and/or feel unqualified to contribute to civic life. Engaging these young people will be challenging, but it is not impossible. We must implement multi-pronged, short- and long-term strategies for engagement that support all young people as they develop their civic and political identity. And we must ensure that Millennials have the resources and opportunities to express their identities with a loud and clear voice, and to turn that voice into effective action.

college student voting rose in 2016

Today, my colleagues at Tisch College’s Institute for Democracy and Higher Education have released their national study of college students’ voting, based on the voting records of 9,784,931 students at 1,023 higher education institutions.  The team finds a national college turnout rate of 48.3% in the 2016 presidential election, up from 45.1% in 2012, with significant variations by race, gender, field of study, and institution type. Women voted at rates about seven points above men in both years. (It’s interesting that the dynamics of the 2016 campaign didn’t change that pattern.) Asians and Latinos increased their turnout substantially. African Americans’ turnout slipped from a high baseline in 2012.

  • Here is the full national report.
  • This is an interactive portal where you can explore the data yourself.
  • The team also sent individual reports to 1,005 colleges, with their own turnout data broken down as much as possible by students’ demographics and fields of study.
  • On NPR, Danielle Kurtzleben covers the release in a story headlined, “2016 Voter Turnout Dropped At HBCUs, Climbed At Women’s Colleges, Study Finds.”