Growing diversity does not increase votes for anti-immigration candidates

Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in 2016 was less driven by voters’ anger over immigration than previously assumed, according to new Yale research.
Illustration of diverse people voting


Donald Trump’s anti-immigration views were a feature of his 2016 presidential campaign. To what extent was his unexpected victory driven by voters’ anger over immigrants moving into their neighborhoods, attending their children’s schools, or working in local businesses?

Not at all, according to a new study co-authored by Yale political scientist Gregory A. Huber.

The paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences, examined whether demographic changes at the voting-precinct level — particularly influxes of Hispanic immigrants — caused an electoral shift toward Trump relative to past Republican presidential candidates. 

Gregory A. Huber
Gregory A. Huber

We found no evidence that places that are growing more diverse are becoming more Republican or that increases in local immigrant populations generated support for Donald Trump,” said Huber, the Forst Family Professor of Political Science. “In fact, our results showed that if anything, these kinds of demographic changes were more likely to benefit his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton.”

Huber and co-authors Seth J. Hill of the University of California-San Diego and Daniel J. Hopkins of the University of Pennsylvania based their analysis on a dataset of election results and demographic measures for nearly 32,000 voting precincts in Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington state during the 2012 and 2016 elections.

The recent success of anti-immigration candidates and political parties in the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and other democratic nations have raised questions about how increasing ethnic and racial diversity affect voting patterns. Some scholars have suggested that changing demographics could realign voting patterns based on ethnicity and nationalism — which, they argue, would benefit candidates with outspoken anti-immigration views.

A narrative arose after the 2016 U.S. presidential election that Trump had used his anti-immigration platform to exploit people’s fears over immigrants moving into their neighborhoods.

To test the narrative, the researchers needed to drill down to the community level. They acquired voting-precinct data, which offer a more precise measure of people’s local experiences than county-level data, Huber said. They combined the precinct data with demographic data from the U.S. Census and the American Community Survey, which provides estimates of population changes.  

They chose to study the key battleground states of Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Georgia and Nevada were selected because their populations have diversified in recent years. Washington state was studied because it is less diverse and lacks significant policy conflict over immigration, Huber said.

While the study shows that people living in increasingly diverse communities aren’t as a result driven to support anti-immigrant candidates, he said, it does not challenge the idea that people are upset by demographic changes happening in the United States.

There are people who are very upset by increasing diversity and immigration,” he said. “They just don’t appear to be living in places experiencing an increase in immigration. It does not appear to be a story about local contact.”


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