Populist anger, Donald Trump, and the 2016 election

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The election of Donald Trump as president in 2016 arguably represents the most unanticipated election outcome in contemporary American politics. Using three nationally representative surveys of the American electorate, this article analyzes the predictors of candidate support during the 2016 presidential campaign. At issue in the analysis is the question of whether Trump’s popularity was tied primarily to ideology and principled support for Trump’s issue positions or whether instead it was inspired by emotions and populist anger at the federal government. The results of the analysis inform our understanding of candidate support in two important ways. First, the results show that individuals’ policy preferences on issues, particularly immigration, played an influential role in shaping their attitudes toward Republican and Democratic candidates during the presidential campaign. Second, the results show that while support for Trump was strongly associated with anger toward the federal government, such sentiment failed to increase support for any other candidates in either party. Taken together, these results suggest that Trump was able to leverage populist anger for political advantage in ways that other candidates were not and that such anti-elitism played an important and underappreciated role in explaining the outcome of the presidential election.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)33-58
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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