Laura Bliss is CityLab’s west coast bureau chief. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
Negative views on immigration and discrimination may be connected to the demographic’s rising mortality rates.
Fred Flintstone and Archie Bunker are alive and well in 2015, according to the American Values Survey released this week by the Public Religion Research Institute. More than one panelist in a Tuesday conference on the findings referenced the T.V. characters as models for understanding the feelings of white, working-class Americans on issues like immigration, racial discrimination, and criminal justice.
With a focus on national-level concerns and the presidential election, the survey provides insight into why some Americans support the candidates they do. Particularly visible are the anxieties of white, working-class voters, who form the majority of Donald Trump’s Republican backers. Their support for Trump appears to be most closely linked to attitudes on immigration. Sixty-nine percent of Trump supporters responded that immigration is a critical issue to them personally, compared to just half of those who support other Republican candidates.
That number tracks closely with the two-thirds of white working-class Americans who feel that undocumented immigrants bear at least some responsibility for America’s current economic conditions (nearly 80 percent believe the country is still in a recession). Furthermore, some 63 percent of white, working-class respondents reported they felt “bothered” when they “come in contact with immigrants who speak little or no English,” compared to 43 percent of white, college-educated people and 48 percent of respondents overall.
White, working-class Americans also voice also a strong sense of personal discrimination against them. Nearly three-quarters of Trump supporters feel that “discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities,” compared to 57 percent of supporters of other Republican candidates and 25 percent of all Americans. Forty-two percent of Trump’s backers believe that “white men face a lot of discrimination in the U.S. today,” 12 percent more than those supporting other Republican candidates.
White, working-class Americans’ views on discrimination against blacks and other minorities are much different. Just 47 percent disagree that minorities “receive equal treatment in the criminal justice system,” compared to 58 percent of Americans overall and much larger majorities of black (85 percent) and Hispanic Americans (67 percent).
The Trump electorate is also particularly pessimistic about the country’s future. White, working-class individuals have by far the bleakest view of America’s future, with just 42 percent believing that the country’s has its best days ahead, compared to 47 percent of white Americans overall. Black (60 percent) and Hispanic Americans (56 percent) are more optimistic.
Who cares what white, working-class Americans think? Obviously, it matters from a political perspective. But recall that this group has been making news for reasons other than its support of Trump.
A recent study found that, while death rates for virtually all other demographics are on the decline, death rates for white Americans age 45 to 54 and with a high-school education or less have risen by 22 percent since 1999. Suicides, drugs, and alcohol are believed to largely explain the increase, which may reflect bleak health and economic circumstances among this demographic.
Hopelessness, rage, a sense of lost opportunity: These feelings seem to help explain the increased mortality rates, as well as the political values of many white, working-class Americans. It’s easy to wave them off in the form of Trump’s circus-ringleader-style rhetoric, but it may be a matter of national health to take them seriously.