Poll: Americans hopeful/hopeless post-election

By Michael Berkman | director of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy


In an interview with Oprah Winfrey last month, First Lady Michelle Obama somberly reflected on the country in the aftermath of the presidential election.  Winfrey was an early and enthusiastic supporter of the current president who built his campaign on hope. “Now,” the First Lady told her, “we’re feeling what not having hope feels like.”

But is America really feeling hopeless? The Penn State McCourtney Institute for Democracy “Mood of the Nation Poll” allows ordinary citizens to tell us what is on their minds. In particular, the poll allows us to ask 1,000 Americans what it is that they are hopeful about.

Michael Berkman

Michael Berkman

Before the election, in September, Americans were not particularly hopeful. Only 34 percent indicated that they felt very or extremely hopeful. And 40 percent said “nothing” made them hopeful. In contrast, 77 percent of Americans felt very or extremely angry and 81 percent felt very or extremely worried. In sum, before the election, Americans felt very little hope, lots of anger and considerable concern.

Elections have a way of making people feel better about politics. Even those who voted for the losing candidate tend to feel a greater sense of political efficacy, a belief that their concerns are understood and can influence political affairs. Further, the end of the long campaign brings the tumult and the uncertainty to an end. Along with the peaceful transfer of power, this normally improves Americans attitudes about politics.

This was not a normal election: With its intensely negative tone, unpopular candidates and foreign interference, one might expect that things are different this year. But that is not the case. Rather, the end of this election, too, has made the overall mood of the public somewhat more positive.

The overall sense of anger and worry has decreased, while the percentage of people who were either very or extremely hopeful has increased from 34 percent to 44 percent. At the same time, the total percentage of people who said there was “nothing” they were hopeful about decreased to 28 percent.

However, the numbers also support the notion of a divided nation. Just like the First Lady, those who supported Hillary Clinton do not feel better. In fact, they have lost hope.

The figure below breaks down the percentage of people who said “nothing” makes me hopeful by the candidate they supported. Hope increased among those who supported third party candidates, Trump supporters and even those who did not vote. Only among Clinton supporters has there been a noticeable drop in hope.

For them, the percentage saying “nothing” made them hopeful increased by more than 10 percentage points. Nearly half of Clinton supporters are not hopeful about anything in our politics today.

But Trump supporters are hopeful that things are going to get better, and in particular that the economy will get better. Here are some quotes directly from Trump supporters about why they are hopeful:

– A 36-year-old white female homemaker from Texas with a high school degree said, “HOPEFULLY, America will go back to the way it was intended to be. There must be something good about it……there must be a REASON why so many people are scrambling to come here.”

– A 58-year-old white female in West Virginia working part-time emphasized the President-elect’s promises to bring back jobs, saying, “Trump is already keeping jobs here such as Ford and is going to be so good for the economy that the nation’s kids will have a choice of great jobs.”

– A retired 61-year-old white man in Massachusetts emphasized the change that he sees coming is “a bright new future with new ideas. President Trump will change the way things are done in Washington.”

– A 33-year-old African-American man with a high school degree living in Mississippi put it most succinctly: “Mr. Trump gives me hope beyond hope!!”

While the Penn State McCourtney Mood of the Nation Poll was not around in 2008, these words by Trump supporters do appear to echo feelings expressed by Obama supporters when he was first elected in 2008. In the liminal time between the election and inauguration day, so close to the exultation of triumph, when all is possibility, hope is easy to come by. Of course, once the hard slogging of governing kicks in, hopes are likely to modify, as they did for Obama’s supporters.

For now, hope is indeed in the air. But while the supporters of the presidential loser never feel good, the hopelessness for Clinton’s supporters, including that of the First Lady, does not have any clear referent.  Will their despair dissipate as Trump moves into the day-to-day world of governing? Or will his decisions as president cause their feelings of hopelessness to continue? This is an important question for our nation going forward — one that we will be watching closely.

Trump did better in areas where ‘deaths of despair’ were highest

Donald Trump speaks at a December 2015 campaign stop at Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Photo Credit: Matt A.J./Flickr

Donald Trump speaks at a December 2015 campaign stop at Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa. According to new research, Trump found significantly more support in areas with high drug, alcohol and suicide mortality rates during the 2016 Presidential election. Photo Credit: Matt A.J./Flickr

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — President-elect Donald Trump found significantly more support in areas with high drug, alcohol and suicide mortality rates during the 2016 Presidential election, according to a Penn State rural sociologist and demographer.

Economic factors seem to explain most of the relationship between Trump’s success and drug, alcohol and suicide deaths — or deaths of despair — in these areas, said Shannon Monnat, assistant professor of rural sociology, demography and sociology.

Shannon Monnat

Shannon Monnat

“Counties that once had strong manufacturing and extraction industries, but then experienced significant decline in those industries over the past three decades are areas that have higher rates of deaths of despair,” said Monnat. “Trump also overperformed most in these types of counties.”

Trump garnered more support in many areas where former Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney struggled against President Barack Obama in the 2012 campaign. He outperformed Romney in 2,469 of the 3,106 counties included in the study. He did better than Romney in 89 percent of counties in the Industrial Midwest, 91 percent of counties in Appalachia and 69 percent of counties in New England.

These regions also have high and increasing rates of death of despair, Monnat added. Nationally, the average drug, alcohol and suicide mortality rate is 36 deaths per 100,000 in the least economically distressed counties and 49 deaths per 100,000 in the most economically distressed counties. In the Industrial Midwest, there were an average of 16.3 deaths per 100,000 more in the most economically distressed counties compared to counties in that region that were least economically distressed and in Appalachia, there were more than 13 deaths per 100,000 more in the most economically distressed counties than in the least economically distressed counties. The most economically distressed counties in New England had an average of 10 deaths per 100,000 more than the least economically distressed counties.

Trump’s anti-free trade and anti-immigration rhetoric seemed to resonate best with people living in those areas, even though Obama carried many of those areas in the prior Presidential election.

“It’s not that these types of mortality, in and of themselves, are driving an increased share of votes for Trump, but that they are underlying more systemic economic and social problems in these counties,” said Monnat. “A large share of this relationship nationally is explained by economic factors like economic distress and large concentrations of working class voters.”

Economic distress is a composite index of six economic factors, including the adult poverty rate, the unemployment rate, the disability rate, the percentage of families with children headed by a single parent, the percentage of households receiving public assistance and the percentage of adults age 18-64 without health insurance.

Economic distress and the presence of working class voters explained about 44 percent of the relationship between deaths of despair and Trump support nationwide, but it explained much more of the relationship in these specific regions, according to Monnat.

“I think Trump’s anti-free trade message resonated in these places and his rhetoric was very simple — Make America great again,” said Monnat. “And you have to understand that in some of these places that have experienced widespread decline in manufacturing and extraction and the types of jobs that pay livable wages, people there really feel like America is not so great anymore. I think the message that he was the change candidate really resonated with people in these places.”

Monnat, who released her findings online in a working paper, used data from the Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In graphics: How Trump conquered the industrial and Democratic heart of the US

Screenshot from a Univision.com article that quoted Penn State Professor Michael Berkman about the 2016 presidential election.

Screenshot from a Univision.com article that quoted Penn State Professor Michael Berkman about the 2016 presidential election.

Michael Berkman, Penn State political science professor and director of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy, was quoted recently in a Univision article about Pennsylvania voters and the presidential election outcome. Here’s an excerpt:

Michael Berkman

Michael Berkman

“During Trump’s repeated visits to the three states, he promised to bring back jobs by canceling free trade treaties, which he blamed for pushing U.S. jobs to other countries. Michael Berkman, a professor at Penn State University, said that ‘definitely there are areas that Trump campaigned harder and had a compelling message.’

“For Ballard and Berkman, the economy was not the only reason for the GOP victory. Trump also had an effective anti-immigration message, and won almost all the counties with white majorities.”

Read more at Univision.com.

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