So what factor distinguishes Trump and non-Trump voters? My answer is social connectedness or, to use Robert Putnam’s term in “Bowling Alone,” social capital. Socially connected people have strong family ties and wide circles of friends, are active in churches and voluntary organizations and work steadily.
Putnam’s thesis is that social connectedness has declined sharply since the 1950s. But as Charles Murray notes in “Coming Apart,” that decline is uneven. Whites in the top third of income and education scales still have plenty of social capital. But there’s been a precipitous decline among whites in the lowest fifth of those scales. They work less steadily, attend church less often and participate very little in voluntary organizations.
Looking over the election returns, I sense that Trump’s support comes disproportionately from those with low social connectedness. My first clues came from the Dutch. Heavily Dutch-American counties in northwest and central Iowa and western Michigan, around Grand Rapids, were Huckabee and Santorum territory in past years.
This year, unlike surrounding territory, they voted for Ted Cruz, with Trump a poor third. Dutch-Americans have dense networks of churches and civic groups — unusually high social connectedness.
I saw something similar in strong Huckabee/Santorum southern Missouri. Southeast Missouri voted heavily for Trump, but southwest Missouri for Cruz. Southeast Missouri has high rates of disability insurance, an indicator of low workforce participation and low social connectedness. Southwest Missouri, headquarters of the Assemblies of God, has dense networks of civically active churches.
Similarly, exit polls show Trump doing worse with evangelicals who attend church weekly than with those who don’t. This helps explain why Trump carried South Carolina and lost Oklahoma, where church attendance is higher.
Then there is majority-Mormon Utah, whose Mormon majority has higher social connectedness than any other American group. Only 14 percent of Utah Republicans voted for Trump.
Putnam reports that social connectedness is highest in states with large Scandinavian- and German-American populations and in Utah. It’s lowest in — no surprise — Nevada, one of Trump’s best states.
In the 13 states highest in social connectedness, Trump has gotten just 21 to 35 percent in primaries and caucuses. In the 11 states lowest in social connectedness (except for Cruz’s Texas), his percentages ranged from 33 to 47 percent.
In states with medium social-connectedness but many retirees voting in Republican primaries – Florida and Arizona –Trump has run in the high 40s. He ran similarly in Massachusetts, where only a sliver of voters there are registered Republicans and their social connectedness may be limited to listening to Howie Carr on talk radio.
I have the immediate urge to praise Canada, set in motion by Justin Trudeau’s recent rebuke of Donald Trump at the G-7 summit. There, Trudeau made it plain that he and his country were not about to be bullied by the American President, not on a question of unilateral tariffs, not about anything. Trump responded with gangster-style threats and sneers, followed by more threats and sneers from his associates.
.. The question worth asking is what it is in the Canadian national character, if I may call it that, that makes Canadians so ready to take on bullies.
Canada has been doing this as long as there has been a Canada. The Mounties wear red coats, we were taught in school, to defy villains by their very presence.
.. Lester Pearson prompted Charles de Gaulle to cut short a visit to the country, in 1967, after he had insulted Canadian sovereignty.
.. When Pierre Trudeau learned that Richard Nixon, in 1971, had called him an “asshole,” he delivered an unforgettable Canadian retort: “I’ve been called worse things by better people.”
.. Famously obliging in attitude—how do you get twenty-five Canadians out of a swimming pool? You say, “Please get out of the swimming pool”—Canadians are also notoriously stubborn of spirit.
.. Canadian democracy is supported by some of the strongest social capital in the world, exceeded only, by most academic measures, by that of Scandinavia and New Zealand.
.. Trust in social institutions, in the honesty of government and the solidarity of citizens, remains strong in Canada, even when its results, as with the election of Doug Ford—the smarter brother of the late Rob Ford, the onetime mayor of Toronto—to the premiership of Ontario, is not what progressive-minded people might like.
.. the United States now ranks below Canada, it still scored high in recent registries. But it once led the world in social capital. Can it do so again?
.. The term seems to have originated, or at least become most closely associated, with the Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam.
.. in northern Italy, where citizens participate actively in sports clubs, literary guilds, service groups, and choral societies, regional governments are “efficient in their internal operation, creative in their policy initiatives and effective in implementing those initiatives.” In southern Italy, by contrast, where patterns of civic engagement are far weaker, regional governments tend to be corrupt and inefficient.
.. If you have experience working outside your immediate clan or cohort, you’re likelier to be able to practice democratic politics.
.. Jürgen Habermas captured in the phrase “the public sphere,” when he showed how essential civic life was to the Enlightenment: a government is only as strong as its cafés.
.. for all the South’s cultural self-proclamation, it was a paralyzed, frozen society, while the North was full of activity. “Our young men are members and managers of reading rooms, public libraries, gymnasiums, game clubs, boat clubs, ball clubs, and all sorts of clubs, Bible classes, debating societies, military companies; they are planting road-side trees, or damming streams for skating ponds, or rigging diving-boards, or getting up fireworks displays, or private theatricals; they are always doing something,”
.. it was the strength of Canada’s commonplace civilization, the knowledge that a huge and hugely variegated country would find bullying unacceptable, that gave Trudeau the nerve to speak
.. his defense of the idea that there is more to politics than the rituals of domination and submission, which are the sum total of Donald Trump’s understanding of society.
.. The bankruptcy of America’s social capital becomes more evident when we see it flourish elsewhere. It’s no accident that Trudeau, in addition to receiving the support of his own Parliament, has received that of what used to be called the free world. The American President, meanwhile, has found himself more at home with the brutal leaders of gangster governments.
.. researchers concluded that close relationships are what make men happy, and that social ties shield people from life challenges while improving mental and physical health.
.. It turns out that flourishing in life is a function of close ties with family, friends, and community. It had nothing to do with fame, wealth, social class, IQ, genes, etc.
.. Social connections are good for us; loneliness really kills.
While calling loneliness toxic, Waldinger said social connections made people happier and physically healthier. It made them live longer too.
On the other hand, he also said:
“People who are more isolated than they want to be from others find that they are less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain functioning declines sooner and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely. And the sad fact is that at any given time, more than one in five Americans will report that they’re lonely.”
Susan Pinker has a fascinating Ted talk on the secret to a long life. For years I’d always assumed things like diet and exercise would be the top factors. But according to Pinker social integration is the top factor, even higher than drinking and smoking (which, somehow, are higher than exercise).