(CN) — It was fear of losing status as a superpower, not economic problems, that led Americans to elect Donald Trump president, a University of Pennsylvania professor concluded after polling 1,200 voters.
Political science Professor Diana Mutz polled the same voters from the 2012 through the 2016 elections and tracked their changing views on issues such as personal finances, trade and economic conditions in their communities.
The study was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It found that voters were motivated by a perception that the United States was losing status as a global superpower, and a perceived threat from the growing racial diversity in the country.
“Political uprisings are often about downtrodden groups rising up to assert their right to better treatment and more equal life conditions relative to high-status groups,” Mutz wrote.
“The 2016 election, in contrast, was an effort by members of already dominant groups to assure their continued dominance and by those in an already powerful and wealthy country to assure its continued dominance.”
Over the four years, respondents became more open to the idea of offering citizenship to undocumented immigrants. And their ideas about trade relations, China and immigration did not change drastically over the period, the study found.
The more that voters felt their own positions were at odds with Hillary Clinton’s, the closer they felt to Trump’s. And there was no real relationship between voters’ personal financial problems and their Trump votes, the study concluded.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, those who believed that white people face more discrimination than blacks, that Christians are discriminated against more than Muslims, and men more than women, were more likely to vote for Trump.
“The 2016 election was a result of anxiety about dominant groups’ future status rather than a result of being overlooked in the past,” Mutz wrote.
“In many ways, a sense of group threat is a much tougher opponent than an economic downturn, because it is a psychological mindset rather than an actual event or misfortune. Given current demographic trends within the United States, minority influence will only increase with time, thus heightening this source of perceived status threat.”
Trump’s victory stunned political analysts, nearly all of whom predicted a Clinton victory. Post-mortem analyses of the election pointed to factors such as economic anxiety in an attempt to explain what happened.
Critics accused Clinton of not spending enough energy campaigning in states that went for Obama in 2012, such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. New York Senator Chuck Schumer explained this doomed strategy several months before the election.
“For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin,” Schumer said.