Last week an eager commenter submitted this Washington Post article to support the contention that Donald Trump won the Presidency on economics and change.
First, look at the regular map, which shows Hillary Clinton winning 493 counties and Trump winning 2,650:
By landmass alone, America looks very red.
WaPo then presents a Brookings Institution remapping of the election results based on economic output. Represent each county with a rectangle proportional to that county’s real GDP in 2015, and we get a map showing America’s doers are bluer:
The 16% of American counties that voted for Clinton generated 64% of American economic activity in 2015. Trump’s third of the map includes far more tiny boxes; I can slide 49 counties over from Clinton’s side and completely cover all 2,650 of Trump’s counties.
I wrote on first viewing that this split between high-output and low-output counties appears to align with the split between new-economy counties and old-economy counties. Donald Trump doesn’t even understand that divide; his business is wheeling-dealing for land and buildings, not providing goods or services. He doesn’t even know what “the cyber” is, let alone how it has fundamentally reshaped economic activity. He doesn’t grasp the global economy; he wants to throttle it and have us retreat back into some fantasy shell of isolationism that will tank the entire U.S. economy and leave other nations free to trade and innovate and grow, leaving us to become the next Portugal. Trump isn’t promising anything to put his lower-GDP counties in a better situation; he’s just promising to drag the bigger-GDP counties down.
Sharing my concern, the Brookings Institution’s Mark Muro and Sifan Liu write that a Presidential focus on boosting the GDP of those low-output counties is fine, if the Administration can look forward and accept change:
Given the election map we revealed, the Trump administration will likely feel pressure to respond most to the desires and frustrations of the nation’s struggling hinterland, and discount the priorities and needs of the nation’s high-output economic base.
On one hand, more attention to the economic and health challenges of rural and small-city Rustbelt America could be welcome, especially if it focuses on the right things: realism about current economic trends, adjustment to change, improving rural education and skills training, and enhancing linkages to nearby metropolitan centers. However, Trump’s promises to “bring back” the coal economy and “bring back” millions of manufacturing jobs (that now don’t exist thanks to automation) don’t speak wisely to real-world trends in low-output America. They look backwards and speak instead to local frustrations [Mark Muro and Sifan Liu, “Another Clinton-Trump Divide: High-Output America vs Low-Output America,” Brookings Institution, 2016.11.29].
Muro and Liu worry that focusing on economic development in lagging rural areas could leave high-output urban areas on their own in sustaining and building the education, research, and infrastructure that makes them successful. I’ve advocated a similar focus in South Dakota economic development: let our big, rich towns take care of themselves while focusing government intervention in places where the free market isn’t meeting economic needs, like the reservations.
But in a way, we already do that. Last March, WalletHub measured state dependency on the federal government, based on federal funding as a percentage of state revenue, the ratio of federal funding to IRS collections in each state, and the share of federal jobs in each state.
Of the ten states most dependent on federal funding and jobs, only New Mexico went for Clinton, by a margin of eight percentage points. The other nine most Uncle Sam-dependent states all went for Trump by double digits (19 points in Missouri to 42 points in West Virginia). Of the ten states least dependent on federal funding and jobs, nine went for Clinton (though it was close in New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Nevada). Only one of those more self-sufficient states, Kansas, went for Trump, by 21 points.
The correlation is clear: Donald Trump won the red-state-moocher vote, while Hillary Clinton won the blue-state-doer vote.
Real Republicans and Libertarians could read these maps and conclude is not that we need to understand the emotions and fears of the Trump voters but that we need to get them off their couches and off the dole and get them contributing to the new economy instead of dreaming that the Trumpist government will give them the things they used to work for.
Related Reading: Loren Collingwood of the Washington Post tests county data and finds a distinct correlation between Trump votes and loss of manufacturing jobs from 2000 to 2014. However, Collingwood finds a slightly stronger correlation between Trump’s vote share and change in Hispanic population over the same period:
I also found evidence consistent with the “racial threat” hypothesis. As shown by the orange dotted line in the graph, Trump’s vote was higher in counties where the number of Latinos has increased significantly since 2000. This suggests that some voters may have supported Trump as a way of expressing white identity in an increasingly diverse nation [Loren Collingwood, “The County-by-County Data on Trump Voters Shows Why He Won,” Washington Post, 2016.11.19].
Collingwood finds even stronger negative predictors of Trump turnout in percentage of blacks, percentage of Hispanics, and, the strongest, percentage of residents with college degrees.
Trump may have played to economic anxiety, but he played more to uneducated white fright.