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Post-election, this perception gap has frequently been attributed to the idea of self-reinforcing “information bubbles,” largely shaped by interactions with social media. Robert D’Onofrio, Facebook director of data communications, was at the conference to explain that while the company is intimately aware of the issue, there are limits to its willingness to do something about it.
“There’s a behavioral component to it that we can certainly influence, but we can’t change behavior,” D’Onofrio said. “Everyone has their own personal experience on Facebook. So we’re trying to take a product approach to it, letting the user control as much as possible about their experience.”
According to D’Onofrio, 128 million unique Americans discussed the election at some point on Facebook. Internal research shows that the most frequent topics of these conversations were crime and jobs. But as eager as Facebook is to celebrate the volume of the discussions it hosts, the social media giant is reluctant to publicly divulge much data regarding the sentiments expressed by its users, especially around issues as culturally divisive as this last presidential election. And while Facebook could remain nonpartisan about the sentiments of individuals, others have been tasked with delving right into them.
Trump’s success has primarily been attributed to the emergent loyalty of the supposed “white working class.” According to pollster Matt Barreto, who has conducted extensive research into the minds of the electorate both before and after November’s contest through his firm Latino Decisions, the unifying principle held by Trump’s voter base was not rooted in financial concerns but rather in cultural ones.
Even after controlling for partisanship and ideology, “the most powerful explanatory variables for Trump,” Baretta said, “are the variables related to your views towards blacks, your views towards immigrants, and your views towards Muslims. In some cases, depending on how you build the model, the economic variables are flat. They are not more likely to predict a Trump or Hillary vote at all.”
While its various factions might not have ultimately been aligned by economic outlook, one demographic made its influence known as a bloc in November. “One of the ways to understand this election is to say that the white working class started voting like a minority group,” said veteran RealClearPolitics analyst Sean Trende, citing Trump’s 70 percent margin with such voters.
Before last year’s national election, Wisconsin public opinion pollster Kathy Cramer had seen firsthand her own governor, Scott Walker, build a similar coalition around racial and economic resentment in small towns. “They’ve been telling me since 2007 that they are not getting their fair share of attention and respect and resources,” she said. In their minds, Cramer explained, the money they deserve is going to “city” folks, allocated by politicians they see as unsympathetic to their needs.
“The racial anxiety and the economic anxiety are inseparable, and maybe that’s always been the case in the United States,” Cramer said. “Our conversations about redistribution are about race whether we are willing to admit it or not.”