The Public Religion Research Institute in association with The Atlantic released a study Tuesday that suggests that when it came to white working class voters, cultural factors, not economic factors, led to President Donald Trump's 2016 victory over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
"Perhaps the most contested question from the 2016 presidential election is what factors motivated white working-class voters to support Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by a margin of roughly two to one," the study, titled "Beyond Economics: Fears of Cultural Displacement Pushed the White Working Class to Trump," says.
Researchers, through a nationwide survey and a series of focus groups with white, working-class voters — which the survey defined as "people without a four-year college degree who hold non-salaried jobs" — found that five main factors influenced the voters' decisions on who to back for president in the 2016 campaign. Trump clearly led Clinton in four of the five areas.
Factor No. 1: Partisanship
White, working-class Americans who identified as Republicans were 11 times more likely to vote for Trump than those who did not align with the Republican Party.
Factor No. 2: 'Cultural displacement'
Forty-eight percent of those surveyed agreed that things have changed so much that they "often feel like a stranger" in their own country." This group was 3.5 times more likely to vote for Trump than Hillary.
The survey also found that 65 percent of all respondents feel that the American culture and way of life has deteriorated since the 1950s.
Factor No. 3: Support for the deportation of illegal immigrants
Support for the deportation of illegal immigrants made white working class Americans 3.3 times more likely to vote for Trump.
Some 68 percent of white, blue-collar Americans said that our way of life needs to be protected from foreign influences, with 62 percent saying that a flood of newcomers to the country is a threat to the American culture.
Both the white working class and the public at large fear that the U.S. is in danger of losing its culture and identity at 68 percent and 55 percent respectively.
Factor No. 4: Economic fatalism regarding higher education
A majority of white, working-class voters (54 percent) view college as a risky investment for the future. Those who held this view were nearly twice as likely to vote for Trump. According to recent data from the Federal Reserve, many college graduates are being forced to work minimum wage jobs due to a lack of job openings, and a high number of post-college applicants. This has led to massive amounts of debt for graduates who cannot pay off their student loan debt with their minimum wage job.
Factor No. 5: Economic hardship
Interestingly, respondents who were of poor or fair financial status were 1.7 times more likely to vote for Clinton, compared to those who were in better shape financially.
The study also found that those who say that society punishes men "just for acting like men," and those concerned for anti-white sentiment made the the majority of the white working class more likely to vote for Trump.
From the study:
White working-class voters who said discrimination against whites is a serious problem were much more likely to favor Trump than those who did not (74% vs. 40%, respectively).
Similarly, white working-class voters who expressed anxieties about cultural change—a composite variable that combined a belief that the U.S. needs to be protected from foreign influence and feelings of being “a stranger in my own country”—expressed a much stronger preference for Trump than those who did not (79% vs. 43%, respectively).
White working-class voters who advocated deporting immigrants living in the country illegally overwhelmingly favored Trump, while those who favored alternative policies expressed far less support (87% vs. 49%, respectively).
Roughly three-quarters (74%) of white working-class voters who say society punishes men “just for acting like men” supported Trump, compared to 48% of those who reject this statement.
These findings within the study do not specifically give nuances as to what fear of losing America's cultural identity means, but both conservatives and leftists are drawing their own conclusions.
German Lopez of Vox wrote that what this study truly reveals is that white, working-class American are suffering from a sense of racism and xenophobia.
"It looked at how much of their support for Trump correlated with, among other factors, 'fears about cultural displacement' — a polite way of describing fears of immigrants from other countries and people of other races," Lopez wrote of the study.
Lopez goes on to say that from the perspective of the white working class, minority groups are "now cutting in line, because they're getting new (and more equal) opportunities through new anti-discrimination laws and policies like affirmative action."
"In this view, many white working-class Americans have seen their stature fall in the past few years, while they think that other demographic groups have continued rising," Lopez wrote. "One can pick the basic facts here — particularly since black and Latino Americans still trail white Americans in terms of wealth, income, and educational attainment. But this is how many white working-class Americans feel, regardless of the facts."
The Daily Wire's Ben Shapiro, however, drew a different conclusion, saying that it was the Democrat's culture war that alienated the white working voter.
"The data show that these voters were simply alienated by the cultural myopia of Democrats, who have focused on an intersectionality-laden definition of American politics, labeling straight white men the bad guy in their bizarre morality play," Shapiro wrote.
Shapiro said that Clinton's choice to wheel out celebrities such as Lena Dunham and Laverne Cox "who deride flyover America as a bunch of Bible-thumping simpletons" made Americans feel alienated in their own country. Unchecked immigration is also lending to this problem, Shapiro suggested.
"People feel that the culture is changing in the United States not only due to the acidic effect of leftism, but due to the Left’s overt desire to change American culture through unfettered immigration without concern for assimilation," Shapiro wrote.
"Workers in Ohio aren’t all that concerned about losing their jobs to illegal immigrants, but they are concerned about losing their country to people coming from lands that do not share the same basic values," he added.