Traditionally high-status Americans voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election as they felt that their status in the US and the world was threatened by growing racial diversity, a study has found.
It was so far believed that the white working class, having faced job losses and stagnant wages under former US President Barack Obama, voted with their pocketbooks when they chose Trump, researchers from University of Pennsylvania in the US said.
However, the study published in the journal PNAS supports the idea that many Trump voters are feeling left behind, but not for reasons related to personal financial problems or economic anxiety about the future.
"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," said Professor Diana C Mutz from University of Pennsylvania.
"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," Mutz said.
Based on survey data from a nationally representative panel of the same 1,200 American voters polled in both 2012 and 2016, researchers found that traditionally high-status Americans, namely whites, feel their status in America and the world is threatened by America's growing racial diversity and a perceived loss of US global dominance.
Under threat by these engines of change, America's socially dominant groups increased their support in 2016 for the candidate who most emphasised reestablishing status hierarchies of the past.
Researchers followed voters over a four-year period to assess their changing views of trade, the threat posed by China, their sense of group threat, and perceptions of their own personal finances, as well as experiences of unemployment and the economic conditions in their local communities.
As in previous elections, most voters in 2016 simply supported the candidate of the same party that they voted for in 2012.
However, the key to understanding the 2016 outcome lies in what changed from 2012 to 2016 that predicted changing vote choice, researchers said.
Trump's rhetoric during the 2016 election capitalised on the fears of Americans who currently enjoy dominant status in society, most notably those who were white, Christian, male, or some combination of the three, they said.
Many of those Americans, Mutz found, switched from voting for the Democrat in 2012 to the Republican in 2016.
Particularly those who found societal changes threatening voted for Trump in an effort to maintain their perceived social dominance in the country and the world.
The status threat experienced by many Americans was not only about their place in American society.
In contrast to the conventional wisdom in political science that international affairs don't matter to how people vote, researchers found that Americans feel increasingly threatened by the interdependence of the US with other countries.
Their sense that America is no longer the dominant superpower it once was influenced their vote in 2016.