More than a year after his surprise victory, scholars continue to debate why Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election. Two explanations – economic anxiety and racial resentment – are commonly cited. Drawing on open-ended interviews with Trump supporters and observations at multiple Trump campaign rallies, we find that both explanations, as commonly presented, do not fully capture the dynamics underlying Trump’s support. Rather than racial animosity or concern over their personal economic status, we believe that Trump’s supporters were primarily focused on what they saw as an increasingly biased political and economic system that no longer rewarded hard work and playing by the rules.
This is a revised version of a paper presented at the 2016 Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association. I thank Katherine Cramer and Jesse Gubb for comments on the earlier version, and Michael Lewis-Beck for suggesting I write a paper based on my campaign trips and for organizing the Midwest panel.
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