Sunday, 5 March 2017

USA: Only 46% Of Americans Have Valid Passports

Six weeks into his presidency, and Donald Trump has yet to leave the United States on a foreign trip. One might even be tempted to call it a self-imposed travel ban.

Trump’s two immediate predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, were far quicker to leave American soil after their inaugurations. Less than a month after being sworn in, Obama went to Ottawa in 2009, while Bush jetted off to Mexico in February 2001.

By now, though, we should know that it’s a mistake to measure this president against the leaders who came before him. Trump is more interested in being in sync with his voters than with institutional history — and on this business of getting out of the country, the new U.S. president and many of his voters are simpatico.

A couple of months ago, while travelling outside of Canada, as it happens, I ran into a young American couple and we got to talking politics (naturally.) They were from rural areas of the United States, but they had been working in big cities and getting ready to make their next career move to the Boston area.

When the subject turned to the November election results, these two young voters were quick to say they hadn’t voted for Trump; that he was kind of embarrassing to have as a president. But most of their family members, on both sides, had backed him. How did they explain the difference?

“Well, we’ve travelled,” they explained. “A lot of people in our families haven’t.”

So, looking back, would that have been a good predictor of who would be a Trump supporter in the 2015 election? If we had looked at foreign-travel data among Americans last year, would we have more likely to see the Trump victory coming?

As it happens, someone has already tackled that very question and the answer seems to be Yes. The Expeditioner website, in a December post, matched election results to passport data in the United States to see whether there was any connection between travelling and political leanings in the presidential contest.

First, less than half of the American population — 46 per cent — has valid passports. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but the final election results gave 46 per cent of the popular vote to Trump and 48 per cent to Hillary Clinton.

But it gets better, or, as The Expeditioner put it, “this is the fun part.” When Matt Stabile, the founder of the site, put the election results beside state-by-state passport data, here was the result:

“There is a striking correlation between the states that voted for Trump in 2016 and those states with the lowest number of passport holders,” he wrote. “Those states that voted for Clinton had the highest percentage of passport holders.” (The exception was Alaska, but that state is an outlier in a number of ways, owing to its physical distance from the rest of the U.S.)

The analysis shows that the 19 states with the highest percentage of passport holders — California, New York, New Jersey to name a few — were all Democrat territory. The 11 states with the lowest percentage of passport holders — Mississippi, Alabama and Kentucky, for instance — all went for Trump.

By this measure, incidentally, this country is more outgoing than the United States. Canadians, compared to their American neighbours, are generally far more likely to hold passports. According to 2014-15 figures from Passport Canada, 67 per cent of Canadians have valid travel documents. That’s a good deal higher than the state with the highest percentage of passport holders — New Jersey, where 62 per cent of citizens have passports, according to figures cited by The Expeditioner.

So if there is a connection between fondness for travelling and likelihood of supporting the new president, you could probably put Canadians in the non-Trump-supporter category, along with California and New York.

The name Trump has already acquired some negative associations around the whole idea of travel. It’s not just travel out of the U.S. either — all of Trump’s talk of border walls and travel bans is threatening to seriously dampen tourism into the States as well.

The BBC called it the “Trump slump” in a story this week and cited cancelled Canadian school trips across the border as part of the wave of people around the globe scrapping plans to go to the United States this year.

But Trump didn’t singlehandedly create this climate of travel aversion. With the fondness he’s so far displaying for sticking close to home, staying within U.S. borders, Trump is representative of a huge slice of his own electorate — citizens who believe that “America First” is a good rule of thumb about travel, too.
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