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Moral Values and Trump Voting

68 Pages Posted: 4 Jun 2017 Last revised: 22 Jul 2017

Benjamin Enke

Harvard University

Date Written: June 2, 2017


This paper studies the supply of and demand for moral values in the 2016 US Presidential Election. The basic hypothesis is that people exhibit heterogeneity in the extent to which they emphasize universal moral principles relative to "tribalistic" values such as in-group loyalty, and that Mr. Trump catered to the latter types of values. To investigate the supply of morality, a text analysis of campaign speeches documents that Trump indeed employed more tribalistic moral rhetoric than past Presidential candidates, and that he disproportionately emphasized the presence of threats to the moral order. On the demand side, the analysis uses a survey dataset on more than 183,000 Americans to provide evidence that the relative prevalence of tribalistic moral values at the county level is strongly correlated with (i) county-level vote shares for Trump in the Presidential Election, (ii) the increase in vote shares between Trump and past Republican candidates, and (iii)~votes for Trump in the Republican Primaries. These correlations exploit variation across counties within states or commuting zones, and appear neither driven by reverse causality nor by confounding variation in local income, unemployment, inequality, industry structure, crime rates, racism, or political conservatism. The results suggest that Trump successfully tapped into pre-existing moral convictions.

Suggested Citation

Enke, Benjamin, Moral Values and Trump Voting (June 2, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Benjamin Enke (Contact Author)

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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