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Contrary to Popular 2016 Narrative, Americans’ Economic Distress is Hurting Trump


September 13, 2018

Contact: Ian Hainline, press@prri.org, 202-591-5356

New Survey: Contrary to Popular 2016 Narrative, Americans’ Economic Distress is Hurting Trump

New Polling from Democracy Fund’s Voter Study Group shows that white “working class” is less likely to experience economic distress than people of color.

WASHINGTON – A new report from the Democracy Fund’s Voter Study Group uses a detailed set of questions that measure “economic distress” to refute the widespread belief that economic distress is distinctively prevalent among Trump supporters.

The new report, “In the Red: Americans’ Economic Woes Are Hurting Trump”, is co-authored by Robert Griffin (PRRI) and John Sides (The George Washington University). The report analyzed unique survey data from the May 2018 wave of the Views of the Electorate Research (VOTER) Survey and measures the economic distress of Americans.

While the economic anxiety of “working-class” white people is often identified as a significant driver in the ascent of President Donald Trump, “In the Red” shows how this theory breaks down in key ways:

  • When asked detailed questions about the state of their personal finances and the experience of hardships, racial and ethnic minorities report experiencing more economic distress than white people do. For example, black people and Hispanics are more likely than white people to report difficulty making housing, loan, or credit card payments and to report insufficient savings.
  • This new measure of economic distress shows that working-class white people are not distinctively distressed relative to other groups. In fact, white Americans without a college degree report a lower level of distress than college-educated black and Hispanic Americans. Non-white Americans report more economic distress at every level of income.
  • If anything, Hillary Clinton voters report more economic distress than Donald Trump voters. Economic distress is more strongly correlated with support for liberal, not conservative, economic policies.
  • Genuine economic distress is arguably hurting, not helping, the approval ratings of President Trump. Among political independents, 52 percent of those experiencing relatively little distress approve of Trump, compared to 35 percent of those who are experiencing relatively significant distress.

“The notion that Trump supporters are experiencing unusual levels of economic distress doesn’t hold up under scrutiny,” said Rob Griffin, Associate Director of Research at PRRI. “In reality, those experiencing financial hardship are more likely to disapprove of the president.”

The full report can be found at www.voterstudygroup.org, along with other research from the Democracy Fund’s Voter Study Group.

Additional information and analysis from Rob Griffin and PRRI can be found at www.prri.org.

About the Voter Study Group

The Democracy Fund Voter Study Group is a research collaboration of nearly two dozen analysts and scholars from across the political spectrum examining and delivering insights on the evolving views of American voters.

About PRRI

PRRI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to conducting independent research at the intersection of religion, culture, and public policy.


VOTER Survey Methodology Summary

In partnership with the survey firm YouGov, the May 2018 VOTER Survey interviewed 6,005 Americans between April 5 and May 14, 2018, 4,705 of whom have been interviewed previously and 1,300 of whom were part of an additional sample of 18 to 24-year-olds and Hispanics. A complete 2018 survey methodology is available here.


About Democracy Fund

Democracy Fund is a bipartisan foundation created by eBay founder and philanthropist Pierre Omidyar to help ensure that our political system can withstand new challenges and deliver on its promise to the American people. Since 2011, Democracy Fund has invested more than $70 million in support of a healthy democracy, including modern elections, effective governance, and a vibrant public square.