Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is selling a picture of a country overrun by immigrants and flooded by cheap foreign goods. But the people who are buying it are the least likely to be living under those supposed threats.
Those are the findings of a study (pdf) by researchers at University of California Los Angeles out Oct. 25. Titled “Donald Trump’s False Narrative on Mexican Migration and Trade: A Geopolitical Economic Analysis,” the report matches primary election data by county with immigration and trade statistics for those same areas.
The results show that Trump’s champions are more likely to live in areas that receive fewer immigrants and imports from China and Mexico, two countries the real estate tycoon has railed against. Indeed, the more likely a county is to export local products to those countries, the higher Trump support is likely to be, according to the report.
Meanwhile, voters in counties more exposed to competition from foreign trade and with higher proportions of non-citizen Mexican immigrants were more likely to vote for a Democratic candidate, or one of the other Republicans competing in the primaries. Only 2% of US counties had both high levels of immigration or trade, and very high Trump support, according to the study.
The authors, no Trump fans, say the candidate eclipsed the reality on the ground using “a simply constructed yet fictitious cross-border narrative” that exploits the fear some white voters have of a more multicultural and multiracial US.
Those fears might be misplaced, but Trump supporters do have some legitimate grievances, the study found. The poverty rate in counties with more Trump voters is 15.2% compared to the national rate of 13.5%. The unemployment rate is 9% vs. about 5% nationally. And in those counties, most of the poor are white.
The lesson for whoever wins the White House: The solution to the real economic plight of Trump strongholds has nothing to do with immigration, or international trade with China and Mexico.