Higher war casualties in key swing states may have swung November’s presidential election away from Hillary Clinton, a new study suggests.
The study, published last month, found a relationship between states with high numbers of war casualties and an increase in Republican support in the 2016 presidential election.
Boston University political science professor Douglas Kriner and University of Minnesota law professor Francis Shen authored the study and wrote, “Trump’s ability to connect with voters in communities exhausted by more than fifteen years of war may have been critically important to his narrow electoral victory.”
Three swing states — Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan — all went to Trump by thin margins. They also all had a median number of casualties statewide, with about 25 casualties per million residents.
The authors wrote their findings reveal that had the casualty rate been slightly lower in those three key states — say, closer to the rate in neighboring New York, with about 15 deaths per million — the states would have flipped and instead gone to Clinton, which would have given her the White House.
The authors controlled for factors such as race, education, income, percentage of counties’ populations living in rural areas and counties’ population of military veterans.
“Even after including all these demographic control variables,” the authors wrote, “the relationship between a county’s casualty rate and Trump’s electoral performance remains positive and statistically significant.”
The study also suggests anti-war rhetoric helped Trump in his campaign, Kriner and Shen wrote. Trump repeatedly denounced the invasion of Iraq as a disaster and said during a February 2016 debate, “They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none. And they knew there were none.”
Clinton largely pledged to maintain the status quo on foreign policy, though she did support a no-fly zone in Syria, which was slightly more hawkish than President Barack Obama’s policy at the time.
Meanwhile, Trump pledged to keep the U.S. out of costly wars.
“Unlike other candidates for the presidency, war and aggression will not be my first instinct,” he told the National Press Club in April 2016.
Trump did, however, pledge to “bomb the s---” out of ISIS.
But his positioning as less hawkish than Clinton may have been a contributing factor in his garnering higher support in states with high war casualties. In those states, Trump saw a higher percentage of the vote than the 2012 presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, as shown in the below scatterplot.
“Trump significantly outperformed Romney in counties that shouldered a disproportionate share of the war burden in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the authors wrote.
The findings may reveal a “powerful democratic brake on foreign wars.”
So far, however, Trump has continued bombing in Iraq and Syria and ordered the dropping of the Massive Ordnance Air Blast, also known as the “mother of all bombs.” The bombings drew bipartisan support after Syrian President Bashar Assad was accused of a chemical attack on his people.
“Our analysis suggests politicians from both parties would do well to more directly recognize and address the needs of those communities whose young women and men are making the ultimate sacrifice,” the authors wrote.