Studies Provide Answers On What Made People Vote For Trump And Brexit

Two new studies indicate that anxiety about the loss of white privilige and lack of cognitive flexibility caused people to vote for Trump and Brexit. Many will resent these conclusions, but maybe the cap fits. Jim Lambert/Shutterstock

The election of Donald Trump and the vote for Britain to leave the EU surprised most observers, but that didn't stop plenty of people providing hot takes, convinced they understood the reasons. Seeking a more evidence-based approach, political scientists and psychologists conducted studies of what differentiated people who voted one way from those who went the other. Two papers on the topic have now been released. The one on the US election is likely to induce some angry denunciations as “fake news”, but that's nothing to the response we can expect to the Brexit motivation paper.

After Donald Trump's election, pundits debated the influence of economic hardship against racial anxiety, but with little hard evidence. Professor Diana Mutz of the University of Pennsylvania took advantage of a project asking identical questions – including ones about trade, immigration, racial matters, and attitudes to candidates – to a group of 1,200 people in October 2012 and 2016. In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they report that the “results do not support an interpretation of the election based on pocketbook economic concerns.”

Instead, Mutz concludes: “Candidate preferences in 2016 reflected increasing anxiety among high-status groups rather than complaints about past treatment among low-status groups. Both growing domestic racial diversity and globalization contributed to a sense that white Americans are under siege by these engines of change.”

Mutz concluded that the people most likely to vote for Trump, after either voting Democrat previously or not voting at all, were those who felt their place in the world was being threatened. This came in part from a perception that America was having to share its status as the world's most powerful nation. It was also driven by people who feared the possibility of losing the benefits of being part of a dominant ethnic group.

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