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Exonerating Bad Economic Policy for Trump’s Win

There seems to be a big market for analysis that argues upward redistribution did not play a role in the switch of many voters from Democrats to Donald Trump in 2016. The NYT wrote up the latest effort in a major article headlined, “Trump voters driven by fear of losing status, not economic anxiety, study finds.”

The study, by Diana C. Mutz, a professor of political science and communications at the University of Pennsylvania, focused on the change in people’s economic circumstances between 2012, when Obama comfortably won the election, and 2016 when Trump carried several states that had gone Democratic in the prior election.

Mutz found no link between a deterioration in people’s economic circumstances and their switch to voting for Trump, arguing that this switch was instead driven by whites (mostly men) fearful about losing their status to blacks and immigrants.

It is worth noting that most analyses attributing this switch to economics look at a longer term deterioration in economic well-being, not the change from 2012 to 2016.

For example, a paper by David Autor, David Dorn, Gordon Hansen, and Kavah Majlesi, found a strong link between the areas that lost jobs due to the explosion of imports from China in the period 2000 to 2008, and switching from voting Democratic to voting for Trump.

If this explanation is correct, then the economic causation would be largely missed by Mutz’s analysis.

This column originally appeared in Beat the Press.