How did a cartoonish candidate like Donald Trump become the Republican nominee for president? Much of the media attention has focused on "economic anxiety," including in-depth pieces by the New York Times and the New Yorker.
But it seems like the real explanation is much less economic: racism and xenophobia.
Two charts I've seen recently speak to this. Take, for one, data recently published by the Pew Research Center, which found that the economy played a mild role among Trump supporters, while issues regarding race, ethnicity, and religion were prominent:
The top reason for supporting Trump: agreeing that a "growing number of newcomers from other countries threatens US values." That is literally xenophobia.
Other answers, like "Islam more likely than other religions to encourage violence" and "bad for country that blacks, Latinos, Asians will be majority of the population," come a close second, acting as equally good predictors of support for Trump and identifying as a Republican.
Maybe this is just one survey or set of data, you might say. But other researchers and pollsters have also looked at this kind of question. One analysis from Daniel Byrd and Loren Collingwood, for instance, found white Trump supporters are much more likely to show high levels of racial resentment than other candidates' white supporters.
The message in these two charts is clear: The economy is only of tertiary or little to no interest to Trump supporters, while race, ethnicity, and religion are big issues.
But if these two charts don't do it for you, here's another analysis for Vox by Hamilton College political scientist Philip Klinkner, who looked at some of the factors that would lead someone to favor Trump over Hillary Clinton:
[M]oving from the least to the most resentful view of African Americans increases support for Trump by 44 points, those who think Obama is a Muslim (54 percent of all Republicans) are 24 points more favorable to Trump, and those who think the word "violent" describes Muslims extremely well are about 13 points more pro-Trump than those who think it doesn't describe them well at all.
This compares with an 11-point difference between those who are most opposed to free trade deals and those who are most in favor, and a 23-point gap between those who think the economy had gotten much better and those who think it had gotten much worse in the previous year.
This shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, given that some of Trump's most publicized statements have focused on tapping into racial resentment — such as his calls to build a wall to stop Mexican immigrants who are criminals and "rapists," disqualify a judge over his ethnicity, and ban all Muslims from entering the US.
Taking all of this together, it's pretty undeniable: Trump's rise was fueled by racism and xenophobia. Any analysis that tries to explain Trump's rise without looking at either is simply missing the real story.