[Marxism] The Baseness of Trump’s Base: a review-essay on Sides, Tesler

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Dec 17 07:33:07 MST 2018

Both before the 2016 election and since, there have been widespread 
claims that support for Trump was driven by “economic anxiety,” and 
accompanying claims that voters’ poor and/or worsening economic 
conditions are what underlie that “anxiety.” This has, for instance, 
been a major trope among the soft-on-Trump, anti-neoliberal “left.” But 
ST&V summarize a large and growing body of evidence which shows that 
these claims are false.

First, voter-survey data on different measures of “economic anxiety” 
show that, in the Republican primaries, voters with more economic 
anxiety were either no more likely or less likely to support Trump than 
were voters with less economic anxiety (p. 92).

Second, in the general election, there was only a weak relationship 
between a voter’s expressed economic anxiety and who he or she voted 
for, once one controls for other influences on vote choice. And some 
measures of economic anxiety were more closely related to voters’ 
choices in 2012 than they were in 2016. In fact, the more worried a 
voter was about being laid off, the more likely he or she was to vote 
for Clinton rather than Trump (pp. 172-5).

Third, “Democrats and Republicans … had starkly different views of the 
economy—but which side they were on changed rapidly after Trump was 
elected” (p. 207). Actual economic conditions hadn’t changed much but, 
suddenly, the percentage of Republican voters who said that economic 
conditions are getting better shot up from 15% to 80%. ST&V correctly 
stress that this is “another reason to downplay the role of subjective 
economic dissatisfaction in the election: it was largely a consequence 
of partisan politics, not a cause of partisans’ choices (p. 208, 
emphases added).

Fourth, consumer sentiment was rising in 2015 and 2016. So was 
income­­—of all quintiles of the population. (In other words, the income 
of the bottom 20%, the income of the next-lowest 20%, the income of the 
middle 20%, etc., were all rising). There was “no increase in 
dissatisfaction or anger” (p. 18). And the authors note that 
almost-equal shares of Clinton and Trump voters said that they knew 
someone who had been addicted to alcohol, to illegal drugs, and to 
painkillers. Furthermore, “[a]mong whites, it was Clinton voters, not 
Trump voters, who were more likely to report knowing people in any of 
these circumstances” (p. 175). These facts likewise indicate strongly 
that when voters expressed “economic anxiety,” what they were actually 
anxious about were frequently something else entirely.


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