There are a lot of narratives about why Trump won. It's racism. (Almost certainly). It's misogyny (ditto). It's anger by the white working class at declining economy and lost manufacturing jobs. (Maybe). It's a desire to give a big up yours to the system (probably). It's a reaction to political correctness. (Sceptical).
Likewise, there are two major counter-narratives: that we need to understand, reach out to and empathize with Trump supporters; and that, no we don't, or at least we don't need to 'understand their concerns' as if they're poor victims, rather than people with deep racist instincts angry at the perceived dilution of their privilege.
I tend to agree with the latter, except I think we clearly do need to understand Trump supporters, what's driving people to vote for him, and why there were enough people choosing to vote for him in exactly the right states.
I've seen the exit polls, the breakdown by all sorts of demographic indicators, race, gender, age, income, education, etc. Also plenty of articles with data on predictors of Trump support: authoritarianism, implicit racial bias, etc., articles supporting and opposing the idea that economic decline is a factor.
But these all leave so many questions. One of the key ones is, what is the interplay between racism and economics? It seems pretty damned obvious that racism is a factor behind Trump support. But racism is not exogenous; what social circumstances tend to lead to higher levels of racism? Trump has galvanized and empowered racism that was already there, but what factors have led to this strategy gaining him votes in the particular places he needed them.
There is a lot missing from the exit poll data. Like, the breakdown by income shows Clinton getting majorities among people of lower income and Trump of higher income, going against the economic anger theory. But, given that people of colour have lower average incomes, does this pattern hold when restricted to white voters? We know white voters without college degrees voted for Trump much more strongly than those with, and of course college degrees correlate with higher income, but it does not thereby follow that low income among whites correlates with Trump support.
Then again, how does the income distribution of Trump support among whites compare with the income distribution of previous Republican support among whites? Traditionally, I think, lower income whites have been more likely to vote Democrat than high income. So the question is not just are they still more likely to vote Democrat, but, is the income correlation with voting among whites stronger or weaker than before? What has happened to the relative propensity of lower income whites to vote Dem compared to upper income, from previous elections to this one?
In particular, what is the source of the increase in relative Trump vote compared to McCain and Romney? The people who voted Obama but now voted Trump, who voted Obama but now stayed at home or voted 3rd party, the people who stayed at home but now Voted Trump?
Racism is clearly a huge factor behind Trump support. But racism was almost certainly correlated with support for previous Republican candidates. It has been at least since Nixon's Southern Strategy. Trump got the support of the great majority of (self-identified or registered) Republicans, Clinton got the support of the great majority of Democrats, so the fact that racism is correlated with Trump support doesn't tell us much about the relationship between relationship and Trump's gain in support (in relation to the Democrat opponent) compared to previous candidates. (In fact Trump got less votes in absolute terms, as I understand it, than Romney or McCain, but while Clinton beat Trump in popular vote by 0.2% so far, maybe 1-2% when all the votes are in, Obama beat McCain by over 7 and Romney by 3.9.)
Some of Trump's largest gains relative to Clinton in vote share, compared to the 2012 election, were in the Mid-West, certainly if one considers swing states. (Which includes virtually all the Mid-West). By contrast, the Clinton vote held up relatively well in Southern swing states or near swing states.
What I'm possibly getting at is that it could be true both that racism is the key predictor of Trump support, and that a key factor of Trump's victory—the people who switched to him, the people who stayed at home having previously voted for Obama, and so on—is anger at economic decline and a system that has failed the working class. (Not to say race isn't still a factor. But maybe, say, the more racist people turned out for Trump, while people who were put off by Trump's racism but angry at the system stayed at home instead of voting Clinton. Maybe).
I say this could be the case, but we need better, more granular, data.
None of this changes the fact that Trump's victory has enthused and empowered racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and much else, and that these forces need to be vigorously opposed, not empathized with. That is the priority. But we also need to understand what went wrong, and what strategies can reverse it; what, for example, is going to help the white working class people in rural, small town and suburban communities, who didn't vote for Trump, reach out to at least some of their neighbours who did and offer a better alternative? I think that is a much better question than the one that is often asked, how can 'we' (implicitly right-thinking but guilt-ridden middle-class educated urban liberals) 'reach out' to 'Trump supporters' in the abstract.