Soon after President Trump was “crowned” by the Electoral College in November 2016, I wrote a column about Putnam County voters that garnered some attention—both good and bad. Several readers decried my conclusion that the overwhelming support of Putnam County voters for Trump was not due to economic anxiety or the unavailability of suitable jobs, but to the overarching fear that white dominance was at risk.
What led me to that conclusion?
Putnam County is predominately white—94 percent of the population (including 13 percent of Latinos) self-identify as white—and, for the most part, the county has not been considered welcoming of racial minorities.
More than 28,000 Republicans, conservatives and independents (comprising more than 70 percent of the Putnam County electorate) voted for Donald Trump despite his reputation as a sexual predator, his lack of knowledge, and his outspoken contempt for racial, ethnic and religious diversity.
The International Monetary Fund considers the United States to be one of the wealthiest countries in the world. And, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Putnam County is one of the richest counties in the country.
In 2016, the median income of Putnam County families was near $100,000, and countywide unemployment was the lowest it had been in decades. Eighty-two percent of the homes in Putnam (38,000-plus) were owner-occupied and had an average value of more than $370,000. Sixty-eight percent of the population over the age of 16 worked; 40 percent of residents over the age of 25 were college graduates, and 93 percent were high school graduates. Ninety-three percent of residents under the age of 65 had health insurance.
Barack Obama was leaving office as a relatively successful leader and the economy—including job growth—was rising for an eighth consecutive year. Street crime across the country continued to decrease to record lows, although there had been a marked increase in heroin and prescription opioid addiction.
In this neck of the woods, Trump voters were a well-educated and well-off lot. Yet, this “enlightened” electorate voted not by principle, but by reaction. To what? Last month, the National Academy of Sciences published a study by Diana Mutz, a noted political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, suggesting that a significant majority of white, Christian, mostly male voters voted for Donald Trump not because they felt left behind economically, but because they felt that their dominant status was at risk.
According to Mutz, Trump voters were not primarily concerned about jobs or their financial well-being but believed that their American way of life was being threatened by immigration leading to increased racial and ethnic diversity and that American global dominance was being endangered by China and other countries.
For the first time in the history of America, whites were being told that they will soon be in the minority. Feeling marginalized and unappreciated in the face of this growing multiculturalism—their economic, cultural, political and military might threatened—whites identified with Donald Trump and a Republican Party eager to portray itself as unwelcoming to strangers of any kind.
White Christians, explained Mutz, pined for an America in which their dominance was indisputable. And the appeal of Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” implied their return to a position of power and status.
“Political uprisings are often about downtrodden groups rising up to assert their right to better treatment and more equal life conditions relative to high-status groups,” Mutz wrote. “The 2016 election, in contrast, was an effort by members of an already dominant group to assure its continued dominance and by those in an already powerful and wealthy country to assure its continued dominance.”