UCLA researchers conducted a study in October that suggested the majority of Trump supporters come from economically disadvantaged areas or areas that are unaffected by immigration and trade policies.
The Daily Bruin’s Sharon Zhen spoke with one of the researchers of the study, UCLA Chicano/a studies professor Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda.
Daily Bruin: What inspired you to conduct this research?
Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda: I was inspired to do this research after hearing Donald Trump’s narrative growing in power. My research has been showing a very (different) reality than what he was trying to convince his supporters of. So I decided to pull together a number of different databases and basically showed that less than 1.5 percent of the counties in the United States actually conform to (Trump’s) narrative of his supporters being affected by high levels of immigration or imports from Mexico or China.
His narrative that America is no longer great because of high amounts of immigration and trade is not supported by the (study’s) data. While we show that the counties that support Trump are indeed economically struggling, we also show that neither the causes nor the solutions for these problems are to be found in immigration or trade policies.
DB: What are the possible ways to address the economic issues affecting areas with high Trump support?
RHO: The solution for the economic backwardness of the Trump-supporting areas will not be found in trade and immigration policies, but will probably be found in other ways such as stimulating productivity through education and through investment incentives of different types.
We’re doing further studies that are showing many of these areas voting for Trump are actually already receiving a lot of government support through agricultural subsidies, earned income tax credits and welfare payments, since they are areas of very high white poverty concentration. And this is an indication (that) the very high degree of income inequality within the white community is a serious issue that should be addressed.
DB: Have the results of your research changed the way you view Trump supporters?
RHO: I think that this research can allow us to try to separate the dynamics of racist ideology from the argument that there’s a material basis for anti-immigration and anti-trade positions. (This research) allows us to say that there’s actually a commonality of interest for fighting poverty and fighting low levels of economic activity in new ways.
The same counties that are very strong for Trump are also very strong for Bernie Sanders in comparison to Hillary Clinton. So we’re talking about a lot of white rural areas that are struggling economically. They went much stronger for Trump, but Bernie Sanders also did better than Hillary Clinton did in those same areas.
That gives me hope, frankly, that a part of the way to fight racism in these communities is through progressive economic arguments. It’s obviously people in these communities that are responding to a positive message of Bernie Sanders. What we need to do is engage a discussion that moves beyond blaming immigrants or foreign trade and address the issues of income inequality, which I think Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are in a sense both addressing as a critical issue in the United States.
DB: What were some challenges you encountered when conducting this study?
RHO: Most data analysis during elections does not combine a detailed use of electoral results with detailed economic and sociological analysis at a very granular geographic level. So the challenge was getting the right databases and putting them all together in fundamentally new ways that were hardly being done by anybody else, even though this was the centerpiece of the race. Also, frankly there’s still a challenge to get people to understand it.
DB: What was the biggest takeaway from this study, and how could this affect the way UCLA students view the election?
RHO: I think the takeaway from this is that the country has come very close to electing a racist nationalist populist based on a simplistic yet dangerous false narrative. That should worry everybody, especially young people worried about the future of their democracy.
I think what this indicates for UCLA students is the value of deeply questioning the rhetoric of political campaigns. (This also indicates the importance of) learning how to use the tools of data analytics and critical thinking to expose contradictions and to propose alternative explanations for problems to create more effective policy approaches.