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Race, Identity, and Voting

Ever since Trump won an upset victory in November 2016, analysts have been debating whether economic issues or racism are what “really” caused him to win. I don’t think it is an either-or.

Identity is a complex package. In this country, almost since the beginning, race has been a component. Identity explains voting patterns to a considerable degree. Race is part of that. We can debate to what degree each component of identity is “responsible” for a given vote. The main thing to note is that economic self-interest is weaker for a lot of voters than reinforcing their identity, their sense of belonging to s certain group. For Democrats, that means that a platform that offers a better “deal” on economics is not going to be enough to persuade a lot of Trump voters. This past election also taught us that what motivates most voters in most states hardly matters. A few hundred thousand marginal voters in five or six states can decide an election. And, I would argue, given the particular states and particular demographics that decided this last election, a populist, and especially a perceived outsider like Sanders, could have swung that demographic enough to have won.

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