Trump supporters are not who the media told you they were

Throughout this election cycle, journalists and pundits characterized Trump supporters as “working-class,” less educated, and lower-income.  While the average Trump supporter is less educated and less well off than the average Kasich or Rubio supporter, blogger Nate Silver analyzed the data and found that Trump supporters are wealthier and better educated than the average American, even when adjusted for ethnicity.

Nate Silver explains:

The median household income of a Trump voter so far in the primaries is about $72,000, based on estimates derived from exit polls and Census Bureau data. That’s lower than the $91,000 median for Kasich voters. But it’s well above the national median household income of about $56,000. It’s also higher than the median income for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters, which is around $61,000 for both.

Trump supporters make more than Bernie and Hillary supporters, and they make more than the average American.  However, Trump supporters are mostly non-Hispanic whites.  How do they compare to that demographic?

Since almost all of Trump’s voters so far in the primaries have been non-Hispanic whites, we can ask whether they make lower incomes than other white Americans, for instance. The answer is “no.” The median household income for non-Hispanic whites is about $62,000, still a fair bit lower than the $72,000 median for Trump voters.

Trump supporters are also better educated than the typical non-Hispanic white person:

Likewise, although about 44 percent of Trump supporters have college degrees, according to exit polls -- lower than the 50 percent for Cruz supporters or 64 percent for Kasich supporters – that’s still higher than the 33 percent of non-Hispanic white adults, or the 29 percent of American adults overall, who have at least a bachelor’s degree.

The data was culled from exit polls in 23 states.

Earlier this year, Kevin D. Williamson sparked an uproar when he characterized Trump supporters as “economically and socially frustrated white men who wish to be economically supported by the federal government without enduring the stigma of welfare dependency.”

This provoked a response from Michael Brendan Dougherty, and responses to Dougherty from a number of National Review writers, including David French.

In his infamous article, Dougherty described two voters, Jeffrey and Mike.  Jeffrey is a “typical coke sniffer” in Westport, Connecticut, and Mike is an opioid addict in Garbutt, New York who subsists on a fake disability claim.  According to Dougherty, the Republican Party has many ideas about improving Jeffrey’s life (lowering the capital gains tax, private school vouchers, etc.) but little to offer Mike.

Dougherty writes, “In truth, the conservative movement has more ideas for making Mike's life more desperate, like cutting off the Social Security Disability check he’s been shamefacedly receiving. It’s fibromyalgia fraud, probably.”

Kevin D. Williamson and David French responded by arguing that the Mikes of the world need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and stop blaming trade and immigration for all of their problems.  They suggest that Mike should put down the Oxycontin and get a job, even if that means leaving Garbutt, New York.

Clearly, Dougherty, Williamson, and French never looked at the numbers.

Trump supporters are not competing for jobs with illegal immigrants or Chinese factory workers.  They don’t work as short order cooks, landscapers, or assembly line workers.  Seventy-two thousand dollars, the average household income of a Trump supporter, is likely greater than what many National Review writers make.

Whatever motivates Trump supporters, it isn’t personal economic hardship, because they haven’t personally been hurt by trade or immigration.  Possibly they are concerned over the cultural and political changes that mass immigration has brought, or possibly they worry about the export-driven rise of the Chinese colossus.

In 2016, a reality television star with no political experience became the presidential nominee of a major political party.  So far, the media has gotten the details of how and why this happened wrong.  We will have to wait on more sober and detail-oriented people to tell us what really happened in 2016.

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