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In his talk “Racism, Sexism, Class and US Elections," Brian Schaffner described various factors that impacted the way Americans voted in the 2016 election.

November 12, 2018

Tufts Professor Details ‘Trump Effect’ on American Voters After Midterm Elections

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Brian Schaffner, a visiting professor from Tufts University’s department of political science, described the “Trump effect” — the impact of the 45th president’s rhetoric on American society — in a lecture Monday.

In his talk entitled “Racism, Sexism, Class and US Elections,” Schaffner compared votes based on various factors, including race and degree of education, to explain the outcome of the 2016 and 2018 elections, which took place before and after President Donald J. Trump’s first term.

Schaffner’s work “focuses on public opinion, campaigns and elections, and political parties,” according to his Tufts biography page. He is also a Newhouse Professor of Civic Studies and the author of the book Politics, Parties, and Elections in America.

The “Trump effect,” according to Schaffner’s talk, measures the effect that Trump’s unusual rhetoric had on the way that Americans vote. The studies examined both voter turnout in recent and past elections and responses to comments offered by Trump and Clinton in the 2016 election.

Schaffner began by discussing the effects of a college education on voters in terms of the parties that they voted for. He showed graphics that depicted college-educated and non-college-educated people voting very similarly in the 80s and 90s, but at the turn of the century, a very high proportion of college-educated white Americans voted for Democrats.

The 2016 election changed the narrative of “who mattered” in terms of voter turnout, Schaffner said. The white, working class voters who fell into the non-college-educated category made a very large impact on the results of the election, turning it in favor of Trump, Schaffner said.

Schaffner also explored how racism and sexism affected the ways in which people voted and responded to Trump’s statements on minorities and women.

He used scales to measure denial of racism and “hostile sexism” within a population of mixed-gender white Americans. He found that white denial of racism decreased as education increased, which he argued showed that college education is a factor in voting decisions. He also found that average hostile sexism decreased as education increased.

He correlated these measurements with a group of people’s response to comments that Trump made during his campaign. He showed people a series of Trump’s quotes that addressed Mexicans and African-Americans and then asked them to make comments on Mexicans, African-Americans and millenials.

“Trump’s quote[s] about Mexicans didn’t just open the floodgates when it came to talking about Mexicans,” Schaffner said, claiming that it actually affected the way people talked about the various groups.

Additionally, Schaffner found that people suppressed their prejudices when presented with an opinion opposing them.

For example, when shown Trump’s comment, “If you have people coming out of mosques with hatred and death in their eyes and on their minds, we’re going to have to do something,” people responded with offensive comments about Muslims.

However, when people were shown Trump’s comment next to Hilary Clinton’s comment that “you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables … The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic,” their following comments were less likely to be offensive.

Schaffner also explained how the “Trump effect” played out after the election. In a poll sent to teachers following the 2016 election, teachers reported an increase in offensive language regarding minority groups after Trump’s election.

Schaffner reported that Americans are allowing pieces of their identities to influence how they vote, which tends to be problematic. This method of voting creates the tendency to impulsively vote based on emotions, rather than consider the actual policies the candidates back, Schaffner explained.

“The 2018 midterms offer some hope that Republicans face consequences for embracing Trump, but, overall, this trend of social identities increasingly overlapping with partisan identities is troubling for democratic stability,” Schaffner said.