At Sabato’s Crystal Ball Alan I. Abramowitz, author of The Polarized Public: Why American Government is So Dyfunctional, addresses a question on the minds of many political observers: Could Trump’s unique candidacy produce “major shifts in the voting patterns that have characterized recent elections?”
Abramowitz taps into data from the 2016 American National Election Study Pilot Survey, which queried 1,200 eligible American voters between Jan. 22-28, 2016. Read the post to review his methodology, and then evaluate his conclusions.
Abramowitz sets out to determine whether Democratic and Republican voters “remain sharply divided” on economic, cultural and racial issues. He also analyses the ANES data to see if there were “substantial divisions on major issues between supporters of different candidates within each party and whether these intra-party divisions were larger or smaller than the inter-party divisions.”
Among his conclusions:
The largest difference between Clinton and Sanders supporters was not on economic issues, as one might have expected given Sanders’ focus on income inequality, but on cultural issues. This may reflect the fact that Sanders did best in this survey, as in just about every other national survey as well as exit polls of Democratic primary voters, among Democrats under the age of 30 — a group that tends to be somewhat more liberal than older Democrats on cultural issues. However, Clinton supporters were far more liberal on cultural issues than supporters of any Republican candidate.
Not surprisingly, given Trump’s frequent attacks on immigrants and his questioning of Barack Obama’s citizenship and patriotism, the largest difference between Trump supporters and supporters of other GOP candidates was on racial issues. Trump supporters scored significantly higher than other Republicans on our racial resentment scale. However, even supporters of other Republican candidates scored far higher on racial resentment than supporters of either Democratic candidate.
Getting down to numbers, Abramowit devises a “liberal-conservative issues scale,” which “runs from 0 to 10, with a score of 0 representing consistently liberal attitudes and a score of 10 representing consistently conservative attitudes.” He notes:
…On the Democratic side, 89% of Sanders supporters were located to the left of center as were 77% of Clinton supporters. The average score on the scale was 3.0 for Clinton supporters compared with 2.5 for Sanders supporters. On the Republican side, 81% of Trump supporters were located to the right of center as were 78% of supporters of other Republican candidates. The average score on the scale was 7.3 for Trump supporters compared with 7.1 for supporters of other Republican candidates.
Noting the polarization and straight-ticket voting that has characterized presidential elections in recent years, Abramowitz crunches the data into an “ANES feeling thermometer scale” and finds,
…Democrats gave Clinton an average rating of 71 degrees and Republicans gave Trump an average rating of 65 degrees. But the data show that Democrats and Republicans gave the opposing party’s frontrunner extremely negative ratings — Democrats gave Trump an average rating of only 19 degrees and Republicans gave Clinton an average rating of only 12 degrees. Supporters of both parties, but especially Republicans, disliked the opposing party’s frontrunner more than they liked their own party’s frontrunner — a phenomenon that reflects the prevalence of negative partisanship in the contemporary American electorate.
Comparing the voting patterns of 2016 in the data with the 2012 presidential election, Abramowitz finds “an extremely high degree of consistency in group voting patterns between these two elections. There is a correlation of .99 — an almost perfect relationship — between Obama’s margin over Mitt Romney in the [CNN/ORC] 2012 exit poll and Clinton’s margin over Trump in the 2016 CNN/ORC poll across these voter groups.”
“Based on these findings,” concludes Abramowitz, “voting patterns in the 2016 general election should closely resemble those seen in recent presidential elections.” For Democrats, that’s reason for optimism, not an excuse for apathy. For the challenge of 2016 is not only to win the white house, but also to build a wave election that can give President Clinton a working majority in congress and Democratic take-overs of state legislatures nationwide.