Sunday, November 5, 2017

Where were they?

By and large, the states in which Trump did well in last year's election were the states in which Mitt Romney did well in 2012.  The figure shows the Republican share of the Democratic plus Republican vote in the 2012 and 2016 election (the District of Columbia is not shown because it is off the scale).

Still, there were some shifts, and they made a difference to the outcome.  What sort of states shifted towards the Republicans?  One possibility is that it was ones that were struggling economically.  I saw a lot of stories about Midwestern cities where factories had closed down, or were threatened with closure, and people turned to Trump.  Another possibility is that it was places that were suffering from high levels opioid addiction--people could think that "get tough" policies were needed or just that the Obama administration hadn't been successful in dealing with the issue, either of which would help Trump.  High rates of disability could produce sentiment against "unworthy" beneficiaries of government programs (I proposed something along those lines in this post).  Although people sometimes talk like all of these go together, they are not all that highly correlated at the state level--the correlation between deaths from drug overdose and percent of the working-age population receiving disability benefits is about 0.4, and the correlations of the unemployment rate with overdoses and disability are both about 0.2.  Some regressions of the Republican share of the two-party vote in 2016 on these three variables plus various controls (t-ratios in parentheses). 

      u       od      d    Controls
1.  .006   -.0005   .013      2012
   (-1.2)  (-0.6)   (3.4)

2. -.0098   .0006   .006      plus Utah
    (-2.5) (1.0)    (1.9)

3. -.012    .001    .006      plua home state
   (-3.2)   (1.6)   (2.1)

4.  -.001   .0004   .004      plus % black, % Hispanic
     (0.3)  (0.8)   (1.4)

5.                  .005      same as #4

Utah was an outlier, and there was an obvious reason for that--independent conservative candidate Evan McMullin, who was a native of Utah and a Mormon, got over 20% of the votes there.  "Home state" was defined as +1 for Massachusetts and -0.5 for Illinois and Hawaii.  Both 2016 candidates were residents of New York, so only 2012 needed to be considered.  When dealing with American politics, it's always advisable to consider race and ethnicity, so I put in controls for black and Hispanic.  

Considering all of the regressions, it's clear that Trump did not do relatively well where the unemployment rate was high.  The rate of overdose deaths and disability always had the same sign, but disability was consistently stronger, so in the last regression I just considered disability.  The estimate is statistically significant, although not overwhelmingly so.  The disability rates range from about 3% to about 9%, so going from low to high is estimated to increase Trump's share by .03 (relative to Romney in 2012).   That's enough to be of interest.  

However, the effects of percent black and Hispanic, which I just threw in as controls, were much more substantial.  In states where there were few blacks and Hispanics, Trump generally did better than Romney had; in states with lots of black and Hispanics, he generally did worse.  The estimates were both negative and of similar size--if you combine them into a single "minority" proportion, the estimate is about -.13, and going from the states with the lowest percent minority to the highest (Texas and New Mexico) would reduce Trump's share by about .07.  

 Black voters are overwhelmingly Democratic everywhere; Hispanic voters are pretty heavily Democratic and Trump actually did a little better among them than Romney did, according to exit polls.  Black turnout was probably down from 2012, but Hispanic turnout was probably up.  So it seems likely that most of the shift resulted from changes among white voters. 

I will offer some thoughts on the meaning of this pattern in my next post.


  1. You seem to be sneaking up on an idea I mentioned before (and you probably thought was nuts).

    What I'd like to see is shifts in voting (both participation and who they voted for) among white and relatively affluent rural (and perhaps suburban) voters. Places like Tewksbury, MA, which were horrifically dense of Trump posters in the spring before the election. The two things I consider significant and in need of an explanation that covers both are the median income of Trump voters (quite a bit higher than that of non-Hispanic whites(!)) and the inverse relationship between education and Trump support. It's not just a bimodal distribution, I suspect.

    Again, I think it's the well-off rural, not the hurting rural, that went for Trump. And that the (perhaps accidental) brilliance of his campaign was in speaking to those voters.

  2. I don't think it's nuts. I'm not sure if it applies to rural and suburban New England, but I think it's relevant to places like West Virginia. The voters there are people who are well off by local standards, and regard the poor or unemployed as people who don't want to work or who made bad choices.