Financial Insecurity and the Election of Donald Trump

Source: Diana Elliott and Emma Kalish, Urban Institute, December 16, 2016

The outcome of the 2016 presidential election caught many by surprise, considering the projections in the lead-up to November 8. In the wake of the election, media outlets and pundits have made assertions about which voters drove the election and what motivated their choices.

One of the primary narratives to emerge has been that financial insecurity drove the election results. Was this election about the frustrations of working-class white voters and their increasingly precarious economic status? Or is the explanation grounded in voters’ demographic characteristics, including race and ethnicity, age, and educational attainment?

Data may shed some light on the answers. We looked at county-by-county election results and voters’ financial and demographic characteristics and found that financial insecurity—as measured by credit scores—did not drive voting preferences. The perception of financial insecurity, however, may have been quite important. Before the election, the most favorable ratings of Trump were held by those with the most anxiety about their finances, regardless of income or local economic conditions.

Our analysis considered not only income, but also other components of financial security, including families’ access to credit and their wealth-building potential. Financial security is also intertwined with families’ economic context, like job opportunities and access to homeownership. All these factors paint a more complex picture of Americans’ financial lives than has been portrayed in the postelection narrative.

Among the 55 counties (or county equivalents) with residents with the highest average credit scores (720 and above), Hillary Clinton won just four of them: Falls Church, Virginia (with an average credit score of 729); San Juan County, Washington (722); Cook County, Minnesota (721); and Washington County, Minnesota (720). High credit scores are associated with long, successful credit histories and bills paid on time and are implicit markers of financial security and stability over a lifetime…..