President Trump has betrayed all the (tens of millions) of working class and/or rural voters who supported him in 2016 – that’s been one of the most popular claims by his opponents politics and journalism alike. (See, e.g., this post.) Even so, the evidence to the contrary being either ignored or unknown continues to impress.
At the end of last month, I presented some data showing that lower- and middle-income Americans have seen their economic lots improve faster relative to those of upper-income Americans under the first two years of Mr. Trump’s presidency than under the last two years of Barack Obama’s. The gap hasn’t been enormous, but it sure seems to belie the idea that Trump voters were duped by a phony populist.
This morning, the Commerce Department supplied some more in the form of its annual report on how inflation-adjusted personal income rose or shrank in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia over the latest data year (in this case, 2016-2017).
A casual reading of the report doesn’t provide much encouragement for Trump supporters. For example, of the ten states that saw real personal income rise the fastest, six gave their electoral votes to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016, and only four to Mr. Trump. Moreover, of the ten states that performed the worst when it comes to personal income improvement, seven were in the Trump column and only three in Clinton’s.
Further, on average, the Clinton states enjoyed price-adjusted personal income advances of 2.60 percent in 2017. The comparable Trump state figure was only 2.05 percent.
So why do I argue that the Trump betrayal contentions get the story largely wrong? Because I’ve compared these 2016-2017 results with those of the year before – which was of course the last year of the Obama presidency. And what it shows is what surely matters to voters more the single year results – whether their personal incomes fared better or worse in 2017 than in 2016. And when these numbers are presented, the economic case for Trump votes looks awfully strong.
To be fair, after-inflation personal income nation-wide was much faster in Mr. Trump’s first year in office than in Mr. Obama’s last – and by a whopping 2.6 percent to 1.1 percent! Even so, the Trump states saw the best rates of improvement. Indeed, of the thirty states whose electoral votes were won by the President (and adding in Maine, which split its electoral votes), price-adjusted personal income grew faster in 2017 in fully 25 (or 80.65 percent). Income growth slowed year-on-year in only four 12.90 percent), and the rate stayed the same in two.
For most of the 21 Clinton states (including Maine), real personal incomes grew faster in 2017 than in 2016, too. But the percentage was lower (71.43 percent). In five of those 21 states (23.81 percent), inflation-adjusted personal income increases slowed, and Maine remained flat.
All together, inflation-adjusted personal income growth accelerated from 0.63 percent between 2015-2016 to 2.05 percent in 2016-17 for the Trump states – a much faster rate than the 1.58 percent to 2.60 percent speed-up for the Clinton states.
Especially interesting – between the two time periods, no fewer than seven Trump states saw their personal incomes grow in real terms in 2017 after shrinking in 2016. Only one Trump state (South Dakota) experienced the reverse. By contrast, none of the Clinton states suffered after-inflation personal income drops in 2016 – but none has experienced such dramatic improvement, either.
These state-wide numbers aren’t perfect measures of personal incomes developments, and they’re even more problematic as clues to political behavior. After all, most states are big enough to be highly diverse economically, and wide gaps between rich and poor can be found inside many. It’s also important to note that the Trump states generally keep lagging the Clinton states when real personal income growth is looked at in absolute terms.
But trends almost always deserve to count more than snapshots. And although the new real personal income numbers hardly show that the Trump states have entered economic nirvana, they make the betrayal claims look flimsier than ever.