Should-Read: Jeffrey Friedman: Trump Voters and Economic Grievances (It’s the Media, Stupid)

Should-Read: Jeffrey Friedman: TRUMP VOTERS AND ECONOMIC GRIEVANCES (IT’S THE MEDIA, STUPID): “This economic theory of Trump’s victory is attractive because it tracks many Trump voters’ words…

…It’s more interpretively charitable than other popular theories about Trump’s supporters—e.g., that they are authoritarians or xenophobes—which portray them as victims of irrational fears and aversions…. Economic theories of Trump’s election were resisted on the grounds that Trump voters in the primaries were not predominantly members of the working class: their median income was considerably higher than that of most Americans, and was comparable to the income of Republicans in general…. However, economic explanations don’t necessarily require that Trump’s supporters were themselves in dire economic straits. They may simply have heard about economic problems that seemed to require “change.”…

What type of change did Trump voters want? Economic change seems to have been important, although other types of change were even more important. Among voters who rated the condition of the economy as “poor,” Trump prevailed, 79 percent to 15 percent. But he lost, 42 to 52, among those who rated the economy as the most important issue. In contrast, among voters who viewed immigration as the most important issue, Trump won, 64 to 32. And among those most concerned about terrorism, he won, 67 to 39….

Sociotropic voting originally meant economic voting that’s guided by perceptions of the state of the economy as a whole, not by voters’ own financial situation. As opposed to “pocketbook voters”…. When you read interviews with actual voters… you’ll find the interviewees thinking hard about whether given policies, parties, and politicians serve the common good. Rarely will you find them contemplating how policies, parties, or politicians might serve the voters’ own interests. To be sure, the common good, in many voters’ estimation, usually includes the interests of “people like me.” But rarely do they seem to think of politics in terms of “me” alone….

If the sociotropic effects of public policies aren’t self-evident, then where do people’s perceptions of them originate? An obvious answer is that they originate with an array of specialists, ranging from academic experts to policy wonks to pundits, who spend their waking lives thinking about social and economic problems, politics, and government. These thoughts are relayed—primarily through the mass media…. That’s just an elaborate hypothesis, and unfortunately there is little research to back it up (or refute it). The possibility that ideas guide politics eludes most political scientists because they haven’t recognized the implications of sociotropic voting….

We’re swimming in mediated messages about politics, so it stands to reason that these messages might influence our opinions; introspection suggests that they do…. Given the conservatism of Trump voters and their age—Fox News viewers skew older—the Martin and Yurukoglu study suggests that exposure to Fox News Channel may be a crucial reason for Trump’s victory…. To suggest that Trump voters were, to a significant extent, acting in accordance with what they learned about American society from Fox, and perhaps from talk radio, is to view them as rational human beings confronted with a complex world and doing what they can do deal with it well. We are all in the same situation. But why would anyone deal with this situation by choosing to watch Fox?… Stay tuned…

September 16, 2017


Brad DeLong
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