Carl Sacklen

The Simple Graph That Explains the Trump Phenomenon

The “Trump phenomenon” is not easy to explain and nor will I attempt it in this post. 2016 will undoubtedly be a year that political scientists will study for several. However, to try to fully understand how Trump went from a joke in politics to a threat in politics, it is important to look to the decades leading up to 2016.

I’m actually doing a research paper on the Trump phenomenon as a case study for populism, so I won’t look at all the aspects in this post.

What I do want to look at, however, is a recent poll published by the brilliant Pew Research Center which sums up neatly why many Trump voters are in fact Trump voters. Donald J. Trump is an anti-establishment candidate. Nothing new there. What the statistics in the poll reveal however, is that not only are they right-wing social conservatives, but they feel like the USA is losing its way.

The first question is very revealing considering Trump’s predominantly white voter base. 81 per cent of Trump supporters - according to the poll – believe that “life for people like [them] in America today” compared to half a century ago is worse.

What does this imply? Well, it looks like those (predominantly white) voters feel that society has changed for the worse. And when you look at it, for them it probably has. The best way for pundits to predict Trump support in the Republican primaries was a college degree and lack thereof. Evan Soltas found that the deciding factor in support for Trump during the primaries was education.

Men without a college degree have been hit hard in the last few decades. Their dwindling career prospects – mostly due to globalisation – has left them clinging to a sinking ship that is their American dream and despite the fact that US GDP has quadrupled since 1980, they undoubtedly haven’t felt it. There have also been rapid social changes in the USA that have left traditionalists feel betrayed. Loosening attitudes on diversity, sexuality and gender, and increased gay rights are undoubtedly troubling to the white working class male. 50 years ago, white working class males were above these people in the social hierarchy, however these rapid changes in social norms, added to falling employment opportunities due to globalisation, have left them feeling voiceless.

Trump’s isolationist strongman rhetoric, unsurprisingly, struck a chord with many American voters. Although the practicality of his methods are dubious at best, Trump promises to create jobs by closing the drawbridge to America and adopting an isolationist policy. He has tapped into fears of terrorism, job-loss, and the elite, and come up with radical proposals that pacify many of his supporters. They see him as a safety net for their American Dream, even if it could be at the expense of the other demographics. However, like populists before him and those to follow, the ‘utopian’ set of ideas Trump presents would be unlikely to materialise even if he became president.

Rapid social change, like what we’ve seen in the USA in the last decade, is often a reason for populists to gain momentum, so in hindsight it was probably only matter of time until a divided nation like the USA became fertile ground for a candidate like Trump.