A friend of mine wanted to know the correlation between Trump’s primary performance and the state of the economy, in light of the recent report from the Census Bureau that the median income in country has gone up sharply between 2014 and 2015. The report itself notes that the growth was uneven, though, with rural areas being left out of the growth spurt, as per Nate Cohn’s tweet. If so, could those left out of the economic growth be voting for Trump?
Some problems arose: while the report has been released, the official data has not been. But, even as the magnitudes might differ, the patterns of who is gaining and who is losing would not have been too different from 2013 and 2014, for which county by county data was available. Secondarily, however, Trump was winning everywhere after he became the obvious winner, making the results effectively useless after some time. So we needed to impose some semi-arbitrary cutpoint based on the primary calendar, for which we settled on two–keeping only the Super Tuesday numbers and keeping only the data through Ohio primaries.
The first, the Super Tuesday primaries, yields the following plot:
The unit of analysis is county. The X-axis is the change in median household income between 2013 and 2014. The Y-axis is the percentage of votes won by a candidate on Super Tuesday, among the Republicans. The dark blue line is Trump: he is the only candidate who did worse in the counties where the median income increased. Cruz, indicated by the green line, did much better in the counties where median income increased. Rubio, indicated by the light blue line, just didn’t do well anywhere.
Expanding the sample to all primaries through Ohio, but keeping the same candidates, changes the pattern slightly, but only slightly:
Trump is still doing better in counties had worsened between 2013 and 2014, as measured by median household income. There is no discernible pattern for either Cruz or Rubio, however.
When all the primaries are included, no discernible pattern remains (Rubio is dropped from this graph).
Trump could be doing better in counties where income dipped, or not–with confidence intervals like these, who can tell? The story conveyed by these graphs, then, is that Trump’s early supporters indeed did come disproportionately from the counties that suffered economic downturn recently (whether these voters individually did suffer an economic downturn), but were increasingly joined by more economically fortunate Republicans as he became increasingly likely Republican nominee.
Certainly, these are based on limited data and constitute only highly tentative suggestions. But it is worth noting that, even in times of prosperity, there are those who lose out economically, while even in times of economic privations, some people do make out like bandits–the whole point of focusing on the variances, rather than means, indeed! In an era of economic polarization, a positive change in the mean (or even the median), even a large positive change, does not necessarily mean that all boats are rising equally. Many may be sinking and they are discontented enough to seek and demand redress, and this may well be a significant chunk of the force behind the Trump phenomenon (Interestingly, this pattern is not replicated among the Democrats, where the pattern is messier. It does seem that Sanders generally drew better among the higher income voters, or at least in the counties where they reside, ironically.)
The evolving pattern of the Trump coalition over the primary season should worry the Clinton camp: even as the Trump coalition was built on the economically precarious from the beginning, he did draw in a lot of affluent Republicans eventually. The MWV’s, the economically precarious lot among the electorate who are not minorities plus the affluent, more customary Republican voters do equal a majority, albeit a small one, in both electoral and actual sense. As I keep noting, Trump seems weak because he has trouble with the Republican voters, especially women. If, as I suspect, that Clinton will not be able to draw many of them to actually voting for her, or even sitting this election out, and cannot inspire the turnout rates among the minorities as Barack Obama did in 2012, it is not too improbable that she’d lose this election.
But this is more than just about this election. An inequitable distribution of economic fruits begets social and political instability, if only in form of voter revolts rather than peasant or worker revolts. As Bismarck would have said, he had been given to more humor (and writing in English!), what use are money and power if you are constantly in danger of losing it to the chaos you are creating by grabbing more of either? In politics (and political economy, as all matters of economy must be eventually) stability comes first. Disruptions may make you money for now…but will take everything away soon enough if you are too reckless.