WASHINGTON— White working-class voters who reported feelings of cultural dislocation or favored deportation of illegal immigrants were more than three times more likely to support Trump, according to new analysis of a fall PRRI/The Atlantic survey released today. The influence of economic factors is both less powerful and more complex.
Aside from Republican identity, cultural displacement and concerns about immigrants were the strongest independent predictors of presidential vote among white working-class voters. White working-class voters who say they often feel like a stranger in their own land and who believe the U.S. needs protecting against foreign influence were 3.5 times more likely to favor Trump than those who did not share these concerns. And white working-class voters who favored deporting immigrants living in the country illegally were 3.3 times more likely to express a preference for Trump than those who did not.
“These new results show that feelings of cultural displacement and a desire for cultural protection, more than economic hardship, drove white working-class voters to support Trump in 2016,” says PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones. “The findings cast new light on how Trump’s ‘Make American Great Again!’ slogan tapped these fears and anxieties and a deep sense of nostalgia for a previous time in the country when white conservative Christians perceived that they had more power and influence.”
Compared to cultural factors, economic factors were less strong predictors of support for Trump. White working-class voters who reported feelings of economic fatalism—defined as those who believe that a college education is a risky gamble—were about twice as likely as those who believe college is a smart investment in the future to have favored Trump. Notably, white working-class voters who reported simply being in poor financial shape were nearly twice as likely as those who reported being in better financial shape to support Hillary Clinton.*
“White working-class Americans display a strong sense of economic fatalism, which influenced their vote choice in 2016,” says PRRI Research Director Dan Cox. “A majority of white working-class Americans believe that college education is more of a risk than an investment in the future, a view that is at odds not only with white college-educated Americans, but with black and Hispanic Americans as well. And white working-class voters who lost confidence in the education system as a path to upward mobility were much more likely to support Trump in the 2016 election.”
“When these voters hear messages from their president, they’re listening with ears attuned to cultural change and anxiety about America’s multicultural future,” writes The Atlantic‘s Emma Green, who analyzed the findings in a new piece posted this morning at TheAtlantic.com.
In addition to factors influencing white working-class support for Trump, the new report also provides a comprehensive profile of the white working class, including demographics, political and religious affiliation, levels of civic and religious engagement, measures of economic well-being, socioeconomic mobility, and mental health.
Among the findings:
- Nostalgia for the 1950s. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of the white working class believe American culture and way of life has deteriorated since the 1950s, compared to a majority (56 percent) of white college-educated Americans who say American culture and way of life has improved.
- A stranger in their own country. Nearly half (48 percent) of white working-class Americans agree, “Things have changed so much that I often feel like a stranger in my own country,” while 74 percent of white college-educated Americans reject this notion.
- Protection from foreign influence. Sixty-eight percent of white working-class Americans believe the American way of life needs to be protected from foreign influence. Fewer than half (44 percent) of white college-educated Americans express this view.
- Losing the American identity. More than two-thirds (68 percent) of white working-class Americans—along with a majority (55 percent) of the public overall—believe the U.S. is in danger of losing its culture and identity.
- Attitudes on immigrants and immigration. More than six in ten (62 percent) white working-class Americans believe the growing number of newcomers from other countries threatens American culture. However, nearly six in ten (59 percent) white working-class Americans believe immigrants living in the country illegally should be allowed to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements, while 10 percent say they should be allowed to become permanent legal residents. More than one in four (27 percent) say we should identify and deport illegal immigrants. Support for a path to citizenship is only slightly lower than support among the general public (63 percent).
- Perceptions of “reverse discrimination.” More than half (52 percent) of white working-class Americans believe discrimination against whites has now become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities, while 70 percent of white college-educated Americans disagree.
- Financial shape. Fewer than four in ten of the white working class report they are in excellent (5 percent) or good (33 percent) shape financially, compared to six in ten who say they are in fair (35 percent) or poor shape (25 percent). White working-class Americans about as likely to say their financial situation has diminished (27 percent) as they are to say it has improved (29 percent). White college-educated Americans, in contrast, are about three times as likely to say their financial circumstances have gotten better than gotten worse (41 percent vs. 14 percent, respectively).
- Does college pay off? A majority (54 percent) of the white working class view getting a college education as a risky gamble, while only 44 percent say it is a smart investment.
- Rule-breaking leader. Six in ten (60 percent) white working-class Americans, compared to only 32 percent of white college-educated Americans say because things have gotten so far off track, we need a strong leader who is willing to break the rules.
- Restoring felony voting rights. More than seven in ten (71 percent) white working-class Americans and about three-quarters (74 percent) of the public overall agree a person who has been convicted of a felony should be allowed to vote after they have served their sentence.
- Substance abuse. Nearly four in ten (38 percent) white working-class Americans, compared to 26 percent of white college-educated Americans, say they or someone in their household has experienced depression in the last 12 months. Twelve percent of white working-class Americans report a family member has struggled with alcoholism, while a similar number (8 percent) say the same of drug addiction. Among white college-educated Americans, fewer say someone in their household has struggled with either alcoholism (9 percent) or drug addiction (3 percent).
- Drug treatment over jail time. Approximately seven in ten (71 percent) white working-class Americans and three-quarters (74 percent) of the public support a law mandating drug treatment instead of prison for those using illegal drugs on their first or second offense. More than eight in ten (82 percent) white college-educated Americans also support a treatment option over incarceration. Drug treatment is the preferred option among an overwhelming number of black (78 percent) and Hispanic (67 percent) Americans.
The topline questionnaire, full methodology, and additional findings and analysis are available here: https://www.prri.org/research/white-working-class-attitudes-economy-trade-immigration-election-donald-trump/
Read The Atlantic’s report: “It Was Cultural Anxiety That Drove White, Working-Class Voters to Trump”: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/05/white-working-class-trump-cultural-anxiety/525771/
This report is primarily based on the PRRI/The Atlantic White Working Class Survey. The survey was conducted by the nonpartisan PRRI in partnership with The Atlantic among 3,043 Americans between September 22 and October 9, 2016. The report also draws on a set of four focus groups conducted in Cincinnati, Ohio in December 2016 and additional PRRI surveys that contained samples of white working-class Americans.
The survey and the analysis were made possible by generous grants from Open Society Foundations and The Ford Foundation. Results of the survey were based on bilingual (Spanish and English) RDD telephone interviews conducted by professional interviewers under the direction of SSRS. Interviews were conducted among a random sample of adults 18 years of age or older living in the United States (approximately 60% of respondents were interviewed on a cell phone). The margin of error for the survey is +/- 2.1 percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence. The design effect for the survey is 1.3. In addition to sampling error, surveys may also be subject to error or bias due to question wording, context and order effects.
* This finding should be interpreted with some caution because it was significant in the regression model at the P<0.1 confidence level rather than at the stricter P<0.05 confidence level.