Clinton Voters Say Economy Biggest Challenge to Families, Trump Voters Say Culture

Third annual American Family Survey shows notable family split in Trump's America

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November 16, 2017

Clinton voters are more worried about economic challenges faced by families while Trump voters are more preoccupied with cultural issues, according to a report released Thursday.

These conclusions are a product of the third annual American Family Survey, a joint project of Brigham Young University and the Deseret News.

Respondents were asked to select, from a list of 12, the top three issues facing families. Overall, the survey found that Americans were less concerned about cultural issues, such as "sexual permissiveness in our society" or "widespread availability of use and drugs and alcohol," and more concerned about economic issues, like "high work demands and stress on parents."

Those concerns, however, are split along 2016 voting pattern lines. More than 75 percent of Clinton voters put at least one economic issue in their top three; fewer than half of Trump voters did likewise. The opposite pattern holds true for cultural issues: Nearly 70 percent of Trump voters picked at least one cultural issue, compared to fewer than 40 percent of Clinton voters.

All groups—Trump, Clinton, and nonvoting—frequently selected at least one "family structure" issue. The survey analysis attributes this high result to the popularity of "parents not teaching or disciplining their children sufficiently" as an answer. Trump voters still outstripped Clinton voters by 20 percentage points within the family structure category.

"The mainstream media clings to the idea that Trump voters are motivated by economics, and [this] survey really belies that, and it's never seemed plausible to me," said Amy Wax, professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania.

Isabel Sawhill, a Senior Fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution, thinks the difference between Clinton and Trump voters comes down to "one's worldview."

"One worldview is that your circumstances, the structure of society, is what determines how you behave. Another worldview is, how you behave determines your success in life. The first worldview is a more liberal view, and the second view is a more conservative view. I'm kind of putting it in somewhat stark terms, because it doesn't have to be either or; both matter. … But I just want to emphasize that the differences in political worldviews do matter," Sawhill said during an American Enterprise Institute panel on the report.

Another explanation for the difference between Clinton and Trump voters may come down to social connectedness. Polling about a variety of possible social connections found that those who reported turning to others for help in only one situation were more likely to be Trump voters, while those who asked for help in three or more situations were less likely to have voted for Trump.

The inverse trend is true for connection to government programs.

"Among those who had never reported benefitting from food stamps, child care support, or Medicaid and other health insurance subsidies, 54 percent of the respondents reported voting for Trump, while among those who reported any such connections to those programs only 42 percent voted for Trump," the report notes.

While their concerns about threats to marriage vary, Trump and Clinton supporters as well as nonvoters are generally positive about marriage as an institution.

Majorities agreed that "marriage makes families and kids better off financially," although more Trump voters agree than Clinton or nonvoters. A minority of respondents believes "marriage is more of a burden than a benefit" or "marriage is old-fashioned and out-of-date."

"The most profound differences between Clinton and Trump voters," the survey analysis notes, "can be found in the question about whether marriage is 'needed' to create strong families." Eighty-five percent of Trump voters agreed with that statement, compared with 48 percent of Clinton voters and 58 percent of nonvoters.

Some of the variation within the category may be explained by frequency of marriage within voter groups. About 59 percent of Trump voters are married, compared to 48 percent of Clinton voters and 35 percent of nonvoters. These differences, the report notes, are likely tied to demographic characteristics like age and income.

Respondents were generally likely to be optimistic about their own marriages but pessimistic about marriages generally.

The overwhelming majority of respondents across all groups said their marriages were stronger or about the same over the past two years. But essentially the same majority said that "marriages generally" were either about the same or weaker over the same period. Clinton voters tended to view "marriages generally" as about the same, while Trump voters tended to view them as weaker.

More than simple partisan divide, the AFS also documents a number of trends in American family life. That includes trends in addiction, which are especially pertinent as the opioid epidemic sweeps the United States.

The survey found that 12 percent of respondents reported a family member "addicted" to opioids, compared with 15 percent for alcohol and 10 percent for marijuana. Five percent of respondents meanwhile described themselves as addicted to heroin/opioids, compared with six percent for alcohol, and four percent for marijuana.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health previously found that 13.6 percent of Americans admit to having abused opioids at some point in their lives.

Interestingly, Americans overwhelmingly blame drug dealers and addicts for drug addiction. There is some partisan variation here, with Trump voters far more likely to blame addicts than Clinton or nonvoters are. However, low percentages of all three voter groups are likely to blame government, doctors, or drug companies.

Lastly, as the Thanksgiving season approaches, along with the usual slew of articles on tolerating opposing views at the dinner table, the AFS found that Trump and Clinton voters can agree on at least one thing: more than three quarters of both plan to spend Thanksgiving with "immediate family," while between just 40 percent of Clinton voters and 34 percent of Trump voters plan to spend it with "extended family."

Published under: Economy