American Sociological Association

Economic Populism and Bandwagon Bigotry: Obama-to-Trump Voters and the Cross Pressures of the 2016 Election

Through an analysis of validated voters in the 2016 American National Election Study, this article considers the voters who supported Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016. More than 5.7 million in total, Obama-to-Trump voters were crucial to Trump’s victory in the Electoral College. They were more likely to be white, working class, and resident in the Midwest. They had lower levels of political interest, were centrist in both party affiliation and ideology, and were late deciders for the 2016 election. On economic interests, they were centrists, except for trade policy, which they viewed, on average, as a greater threat than other voters. They claimed to have more experience with economic vulnerability than Democratic loyalists of comparable social standing. On racial attitudes, including the racialized economic topic of immigration, they had a profile similar to Republican loyalists. While their support of Trump may be attributable to surging white nativism, this article argues for an alternative explanation. Voters who were attracted by Trump’s economic populism only joined his coalition if they could accept his racialized rhetoric. As a result, the Trump bandwagon predominantly attracted generically bigoted voters with racial attitudes similar to Republican loyalists.


Stephen L. Morgan and Jiwon Lee