“Bad hombres” from Mexico are pouring into the U.S., stealing jobs, draining government resources, and causing crime. That is perhaps one of the few consistent narratives coming from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and it’s helped him ride a support network that in some parts of the country transcends the historical urban-rural partisan divide. As Jonathan Rodden, a professor of political science at Stanford University, writes in The Washington Post:
The Republican presidential candidate has adopted a nativist, anti-trade platform that seems explicitly tailored not only to white rural voters—who have been voting reliably Republican for years—but also to white voters in post-industrial towns who have been voting overwhelmingly Democratic for decades. This strategy is based on the notion that Obama’s description of “anti-immigrant” and “anti-trade” sentiment among small-town voters was correct.
This subset of white America does indeed have economic woes. But the much-touted ill effects of immigration or trade are not among them. That’s the main takeaway of a new study by Raul Hinojosa Ojeda at UCLA’s North America Integration and Development Center.
In it, Ojeda has taken a deep, granular dive into the geography of Trump’s base during the primaries. He has analyzed voting results for 2,621 of the 3,007 U.S. counties, and matched it with demographic and socioeconomic data, as well as information on imports and exports with Mexico and China. He found that only 2 percent of all U.S. counties have both—a high concentration of Trump’s primary voters as well as high immigration or trade. More than 60 percent of counties that had very high support for Trump showed low concentrations of Mexican immigrants or trade exposure. “Our research shows that virtually no aspects of Trump’s simple narrative to his voters has any factual basis,”Ojeda concludes, “and that the data actually shows the opposite of Trump's narrative.”
Earlier this year, a similar report from Gallup economist Jonathon Rothwell found that the best predictor of Trumpism is how white the neighborhood is, not whether it’s got a lot of immigration or trade competition. Ojeda’s results are consistent with Rothwell’s, but his paper goes into greater geographic detail and is based on actual voting data. He’s also included maps that lay out where Trump’s primary voters live in relation to the Mexican immigrants (below, top) and imports (below, bottom). Note that in both, the counties in brown are the only ones that contained high shares in each category. The rest contain other combinations explained by the key on the bottom, right hand side of each map:
Although the primaries are a very different animal from general election, Ojeda is confident that Republican support will be distributed along similar lines as the primaries. To test that, he plans to release a similar study using voting data after November 8. But for now, this research gives us a better sense of how we got here in the first place.