The Establishment has forcefully pushed the explanation that Clinton lost due the fact that “working class whites” voted for Trump because they are racist. I was surprised to hear this theory, because as a poor white person, I know that the rich always vote for Republicans and the poor have very consistently voted for Democrats. This holds in exit poll data back into 1984 (we’ll talk about the income data and exit polls in general in a separate post, but that data can be found here). This year, Clinton only won those making 50,000 a year, while losing the other income groups.
Some have noticed that Trump won more uneducated voters, and called these people working class. This seems strange for two reasons
- Trump also won the educated white vote.
- Only 30 percent of the country has a BA and BA’s are no guarantee of social status in a country where there is limited social mobility
More detailed contextual information is here. After seeing these arguments, it was suggested that Clinton won the cities, where the poor are assumed to be nonwhite (there are in fact, poor whites in urban areas, I used to be one), while Trump won rural, white voters living in poverty. This theory will be deconstructed by looking at the precinct by precinct data. That data, which goes beyond exit polls to actual vote totals, can be found using this link. Please subscribe to the LA Times for being kind enough to make big data accessible to everyone.
What the Exit Polls Show
The trick to getting people to accept oppression is to do it slowly over time. It works like boiling a frog, if you throw a live frog into a boiling pot, it’ll jump right out. If you put the frog in the water and then boil it, the frog won’t notice what has happened until it is too late. Today we are going to talk about the evidence and factors that suggest this has been happening to the poor in our electoral system. Now, much has been written about the declining middle class and that is real and important, but people much better qualified than I am have already tackled that in a lot of detail, so today I won’t be talking about that. It’s not personal, I just can’t do everything. I do suggest though, that middle class people start asking some tough questions about what the rich has been doing to them and the poor, because as we will see, the real beneficiaries are the rich. This might explain why so many MIDDLE CLASS people felt the need to vote for someone new, like Trump, and I hope someone will take that discussion on, or perhaps the theory that these people believe they can one day become rich and vote against their interests holds for the middle class. It definitely doesn’t hold for the working class, who have continued to vote for the Democrats for a very long time.
I’ve already proven based on the exit poll data and precinct by precinct numbers that the poor didn’t actually vote for Trump. You can see the neighborhood data here which shows that even in California, you can see neighborhoods broken up by income next to each other where the rich clearly voted for Trump while the poor went overwhelmingly to Clinton. California is not an anomaly, their poor aren’t less poor and the only area that seems especially liberal is the Bay Area, which has a larger number of immigrants, members of the queer community, Jewish people and Millenials in their upper classes. This pattern, where the rich vote for Republicans and the poor vote for Democrats holds as far back as I can trace it back, except for the Reagan anomaly in 1980, though it is worth noting that Reagan won by a landslide and the MOST poor group was the only group the Democrats won. Even in extremely white neighborhoods the trend holds. This holds even in the areas we think of as liberal, and even in urban areas.
So what explanation explains why the Democrats lost, if its not the Rust Belt Revolt? We know that turnout was lower this year for the Democrats. It however, wasn’t universally lower turnout for all income groups.
This data comes from the Roper Center at Cornell, but it could be cross referenced with other data. Broadly, the data shows that the number of poor people who make up the electorate has declined, while the rich have increased. Now, in case you don’t want to go through that data and want an easier way to see the visual change over time, I’ve made a chart.
This is the percent of vote share (so what percentage they made of the electorate over time). The poor have a dramatic decrease, while the rich have a dramatic increase. In 2016, they very nearly intersect. I defined class by income and adjusted for inflation.
In 2016, 26 percent of voters made more 100,000 dollars a year. That’s the upper 20 percent, but they represent 26 percent of votes. In 2016, half the country was making less than 30,000, but those making UNDER 50,000 only represent 41 percent of the votes. The rich were actually over-represented while the poor were under represented, and this is true even when we allow 50,000, to be the marker instead of 30,000 (I wanted to account for high cost of living locations). You’ll notice that the exit polls stop breaking down the working class numbers into discrete categories in 2012, this isn’t because people aren’t making less than 50,000. It might because the lowest numbers of the income status weren’t statistically significant enough to separate out anymore. This is not because of inflation, things haven’t changed THAT much since the 80s.
In case you don’t believe this, here’s the median income numbers over time.
The poor have increased, but the rich show a pretty dramatic convergence.
Frankly, 1980 isn’t even far enough to adjust for inflation because things haven’t changed that much in terms of median income. What has changed is the number of the rich. This might explain while those making 100,000 claim to be “middle class” because in comparison to the rest of the upper class, they do make much less.
So we know the rich voted for Trump. We know that they made up a greater share of voters. We also know that the share of poor voters has decreased over time, even though there are now more poor people than there were in 1980, and even though we have a higher threshold for “working class” than what HALF the country makes.
What could have caused this outcome?
1) Voter Suppression
When I first started looking at this data, I thought there was no way those in power could have gotten better at voter suppression since Nixon to such a significant degree to explain the gap. But voter suppression was a major factor this year. Voter suppression disproportionately impacts the poor and is very targeted at them. Many of the same tactics the Republicans used in the general were used in the primaries, which may have contributed to Sanders losing the primary despite having broad working class support in places like Kansas.
Now, lets take a look at the people who didn’t vote, which again, was the poor. Here are their reasons.
A large percentage of people say they don’t vote because they are too sick to do so. Mortality has increased over the same amount of time that this shift in vote share has occurred, but it has only happened for one group. And that group is very specifically poor whites. We also know that Trump won counties with poorer health, AND that turnout was lower in those areas. This means that the establishment has been blaming people who either were dying or too sick to vote. They’ve been doing it while mocking them too. I don’t know how everyone else’s moral code work, but I happen to think this is pretty monstrous behavior for the people that claim the moral high ground.
3) Working Conditions
You’ll notice that another top reason is scheduling issues or work conflicts. Work has changed dramatically for the poor in that time. Contrary to popular belief most of the poor are actually working but that work has changed. It is more fractured, during more irregular hours, and people are also working more hours. People are also working multiple jobs and families need at least two incomes to survive.
Election Day is not a national holiday and businesses aren’t really required to accommodate the poor with voting, many of whom couldn’t make it even if they did because of the hours they are working or because of family commitments.
4) Decline of the unions and Civic Organizations
Unions and civic organizations like churches used to be a BIG part of the voter drives that increased the turnout of Democrats. As the share of voters from the poor has decreased, it has happened at the same time as the decline of the unions. At the same time we’ve seen a decline in poor white participation in civic organizations like churches. This matters because they are lacking in organizational structures that used to increase turnout, but it also takes away an important support structure for those that are struggling. This decline has been implicated in the health crisis as well.
5) The lack of mobility
Many people also cited transportation as an issue. It is a common misconception that the urban areas are the poorest. This was true before gentrification, but the trend of poor people being pushed out of the cities starts at the same time the share of voters who are poor decreases. Much of the poor is now living in isolated areas in the country just outside the cities. Being poor in the suburbs has it’s own set of challenges, there are food deserts, lack of public transportation, and lack of options for school attendance. It also is nearly impossible to travel around without a car. On the bus, it used to take me an hour and a half just to get out of my neighborhood and a minimum of two hours to get downtown where the better schools and resources were located. If you have to work, and you don’t have transport, just getting to the polling station on time is nightmare. And that’s assuming you don’t need a babysitter to do it or that it is within walking distance.
6) Increased hopelessness
Feelings are a little harder to quantify, but if we look at the exit poll data, and the reasons people didn’t vote, it seems that many people feel disaffected and disenfranchised. This is why the poor were more likely to vote third party and also why many didn’t vote because they liked neither candidate. A large portion of Sanders voters were white and working class, those voters felt marginalized by the Democratic party this year after the primaries. In fact, we know most of the poor falls into the category of “hard-pressed skeptic” which simply means that their oppression has made them distrustful of all government figures. We also know that more poor whites are dying from drug related deaths. We can assume that they reasons they might do those drugs are similar to the reasons other poor communities do drugs. It is a coping mechanism. However, I believe it is significant that people are falling to opiod deaths, in my experience most opiod addicts start out as chronic pain patients or people who were in industrial accidents and had to recover. This might explain why we’ve seen a rise in disability claims too and it helps contribute to the mortality increase. We also know suicide is on the rise for this group as well.
Now, if people want to talk about WHY the rich voted for Trump, I have some speculation on that. I figure they voted for him because he was the guy looking out for their interests, and it is in their interests to suppress the poor. Now, obviously not all of the rich think like that, but if you are rich and also have been blaming poor whites and consider yourself a leftist, you need to think deeply about your behavior. Much of this information has gone under the radar, they’ve been boiling us so gradually that we haven’t been able to get out of the pot on time. Taken all together the answer to why Trump won and why the poor didn’t vote seems clear, doesn’t it? Oppression had a hand in oppressing people. It’s ok that you didn’t know this until now, it is also ok that you and the rest of the Establishment has been ignoring this data for weeks now and continue to propagate the narrative that the poor are responsible. Maybe you didn’t have the data, maybe it didn’t fit into your worldview, perhaps you’ve been busy mourning. It is ok, I am here to help you. I learned at Stanford that the rich only believe you when you have empirical data, so even though I KNEW all of this and have known for sometime, I have bowed to your request for empiricism. Now lets see if you really mean that.
You can’t kill people and then blame them for what your neighbors did to them. That is cruel and evil. The Left has got to stop demonizing these people and excluding them from our agenda. If we claim to fight oppression, we should fight it everywhere. I fight for racial injustice, and yet, too many of you have dismissed my concerns about the fact that my people are literally dying. It is NOT NORMAL for a group to have increasing mortality in the modern era, that is a sign that something has gone desperately wrong. We are in this struggle together or they will divide us up and conquer us, like they just did. That’s why Trump is president right now, that and the fact that the left has disgusted the poor so much that they didn’t want to risk taking time off work or away from their kids to vote for a candidate that has been actively disdainful of them. I know who you guys think the deplorables are because you keep claiming it was deplorables that voted for him AND that it was poor whites who caused him to take office. Who are the real deplorables here?
Now is the time to find out if you are redeemable.
If you are reading this and wondering why I’m not in a doctoral program, then you are on the right track. Here’s the answer. If there is even a shred of moral decency among you, you will start working on income inequality and you will stop mocking the poor. All of the poor. I’m not going to let you oppress people without a fight, just as I have fought for racial injustice over the last ten years. If you are down for the team, get down for the team.
Other pieces of this series can be found here:
How Mobilizing the Poor Might Have Changed the Election
Blame Trump on the Rich Part 1: Gridley and the Two Sides of the Tracks
Blame Trump on the Rich Part 2: Those Poor, White Mountain Towns
Blame Trump on the Rich, Part 3: Beachfront Trumpers
Blame Trump on the Rich, Part 4: The KKK and the two Neighborhoods Adjacent
Blame Trump on the Rich, Part 5: Los Angeles, the City of Angels and Very Fashionable Devils