Understanding the 2016 Presidential Election: An analysis of how economic and race/immigration politics influenced swing voters

Presented by:
Tim Renier, Margaret Blakeman, Rammah Shandaq (St. Olaf College)

The 2016 US Presidential Election was unprecedented, as traditional prediction methods failed to forecast the outcome. Using a demographic and political opinion survey of confirmed voters, we characterized President Trump’s voters, particularly “non-Republicans,” with two hypotheses: 1) Trump voters were economically downtrodden and 2) voters aligned with Trump’s immigration and race rhetoric. We created two multilevel models with voter and state level variables and found partial support for the “economically downtrodden” hypothesis: a belief the economy became worse under President Obama was a strong predictor of a non-Republican vote for Trump. Actual income was not a significant predictor of vote. We also found support for the “race politics” hypothesis: supporting policies to curb immigration was a meaningful predictor non-Republicans would vote for Trump. While Republicans largely followed party lines, swing voters expressed discontent with the status of current economic and immigration/race issues and propelled Trump to the White House.