Who voted for Donald Trump? A Cohort Study

After our 2016 election, I became determined to understand why Americans found a billionaire, real estate mogul, reality show candidate so attractive as our next president. This did not compute for me. What about this 70-year-old, obviously sexist and racist candidate spoke to so many Americans? In the midst of listening to the popular music of the 1960s this week I finally got it. This music reminded me of what was happening in our country in the mid- to late 1960s, something I hadn’t thought about in years.

First of all, let me explain what a cohort study is. Wikipedia defines it as:

“A cohort study is a particular form of longitudinal study that samples a cohort (a group of people who share a defining characteristic, typically those who experienced a common event in a selected period)…”

My best example is a study I learned about when I was pursuing a Master’s degree in history. It theorized and then proved that many of the children from Germany in WWI lost their fathers and consequently found themselves seeking a strong, authoritarian father figure as they grew up. This they found in Adolf Hitler. They found meaning and purpose in the rise of Hitler’s Nazi Party.

Back to the Trump cohort. I began to think about the recent history of our country, and the revolution we experienced in the 60s, a real revolt against the Vietnam War, racist and sexist attitudes, and powerful men who thought they could tell us what to do without our permission. Note the impeachment of Richard Nixon who resigned in 1974.

“Opposition to United States involvement in the Vietnam War began with demonstrations in 1964 against the escalating role of the U.S. military in the Vietnam War and grew into a broad social movement over the ensuing several years. This movement informed and helped shape the vigorous and polarizing debate, primarily in the United States, during the second half of the 1960s and early 1970s on how to end the war. By 1967, according to Gallup Polls, an increasing majority of Americans considered U.S. military involvement in Vietnam to be a mistake.”

I began to see how the 1960s peace movement tended to include educated college students and their elders: “Opposition grew with participation by the African-American civil rights, women’s liberation, and Chicano movements, and sectors of organized labor. Additional involvement came from many other groups, including educators, clergy, academics, journalists, lawyers, physicians, and war veterans.”  Source: Wikipedia

This revolution left out most poor and uneducated Americans who didn’t go to college or revolt. The men were sent to Vietnam. Trump was also apparently left out. He attended the New York Military Academy and the Wharton School during the Vietnam War protests.

“After graduating from college in the spring of 1968, Trump was eligible to be drafted and sent to Vietnam. Instead he received a diagnosis that would change his path: bone spurs in his heels. This diagnosis resulted in a coveted 1-Y medical deferment that fall, exempting him from military service as the United States was undertaking huge troop deployments to Southeast Asia, inducting about 300,000 men into the military that year. The deferment was one of five Mr. Trump received during Vietnam. The others were for education.” The New York Times

In 1968 Trump began his career working for his father in real estate, blissfully unaware of a war half a world away that killed over 58,000 Americans and caused permanent physical and mental disabilities in thousands more.

Vietnam vets account for at least one quarter of homeless Americans today.

My theory, and I find statistics do back this up, is that those who went to Vietnam or went straight into jobs in trades like coal mining and factory jobs, felt left out and let down by an ever expanding economy and higher education rates. They may have felt like losers for not getting better careers, because of their lack of education and connections. Statistics show how financial insecurity played a role in attracting Trump voters, but education levels mattered more than income levels. 

“I love the poorly educated,” Trump famously said after winning the Nevada Caucuses in February, 2016. Apparently, for many of those voters, Trump offered them a chance to not feel like a loser for the first time in a long time.

He relates to those who missed out on the 60s revolution and higher education, training that teaches us to respect scientific data when it warns us of warming oceans and catastrophic hurricanes.

“Clinton gained over 8 percentage points on Obama’s 2012 performance in the 50 best educated counties, but lost over 11 points in the 50 least educated counties.” Seven Surprising Graphics About Trump Voters

I find this cohort explanation satisfactory to explain that both the older, wealthy Americans who fear losing their wealth, and the uneducated who have felt like losers in this ever-expanding global economy, not to mention the purely fascist, racist segment, elected this president.

10 thoughts on “Who voted for Donald Trump? A Cohort Study

  1. This is a very interesting point of view. Add to that tons of propaganda and tribalism, and you have yourself someone who is nearly worshiped. It’s a complicated topic. And it’s very strange nowadays how everyone seems so obsessed in meshing their identity with politics. Bill Clinton, Bush, Obama… no one seemed to have this level of obsessive idolatry, which I find strange. Where did that come from? Perhaps your blog begins to answer that question.

    Take care,


  2. Yes Yari, you are right, and the reason it seems so much more than before is the Internet! Social media creates mob-think better than any other method known to Man. Read up on it! It’s fascinating and so scary…. “those who have no interest in free speech will ultimately be poisonous for democracy.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-social-media-mob-is-a-danger-to-society/2018/07/12/eef13834-860b-11e8-9e80-403a221946a7_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.05a572464e07


  3. It’s complicated, indeed. I work with someone who is an ardent Trump supporter. She grew up in the Northeast, and also comes from a family that had a number of career military people. She definitely feels left out. And, from knowing her, I don’t think we can ever change the minds of any of that cohort.


  4. I haven’t wanted to understand. I’ve wanted to stand back and judge. Harshly. You make me feel ashamed.
    And determined to do better!
    I still can’t condone. But I can try to understand!


  5. That’s pretty brilliant. I hadn’t thought of it quite that way. I was out there protesting for peace but now I feel horrible at the way our soldiers were treated when they came back. They went through hell and it’s a travesty to see so many of them homeless. It isn’t right. They feel disenfranchised and have been wooed by a rich, spoiled twerp who became rich with Daddy’s money.


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