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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

New Study Illuminates How Attitudes Toward Social Issues Helped Trump Win

In his article, “How attitudes about immigration, race and religion contributed to Trump victory,” Washington Post chief correspondent Dan Balz discusses four reports just released by Democracy Fund Voter Study Group. Balz reports that “The findings are based on online surveys, including one after the election with a sample of 8,000 people who had participated in other such surveys in 2011, 2012 and mid-2016. The surveys were conducted by the firm YouGov” and address “the appeal of candidate Trump, the multifaceted coalition that came to support him, political divisions that continue between and within the parties, and how certain issues came to prominence in 2016.”

Much of the study covers some familiar ground. Balz shares the views of George Washington University political scientist John Sides, who notes that,

“…Attitudes about immigration, feelings toward black people and feelings toward Muslims became more strongly related to voter decision-making in 2016 compared to 2012.”…Sides argues that, even before 2016, there was “an increasing alignment between race and partisanship” and among whites there was “an increasing division based on education,” with non-college-educated whites moving away from the Democratic Party, especially after the election of Obama in 2008.

“The shifts among white people overall and white people without a college degree occurred mostly among white people with less favorable attitudes toward black people,” he writes. “No other factor predicted changes in white partisanship during Obama’s presidency as powerfully and as consistently as racial attitudes.” But he also notes that there also were clear divisions between white Democrats and white Republicans in their evaluations of Muslims and their attitudes toward immigration…What did change between 2012 and 2016 was the increased significance in voters’ minds of issues about immigration and attitudes toward blacks and Muslims, among whites both with and without college degrees.

The study apparently did not provide metrics indicating how much of any such attitude change was amplified by Trump’s immigrant-bashing and xenophobic rants, nor to what extent real attitude changes were a function of growing economic insecurity experienced by the survey respondents. Trump’s Electoral College win — let’s not forget that he lost the national popular vote — may well have been a one-time souffle of fears and resentments that he was able to serve up in the rust belt, NC and FL at a particular moment.

Balz adds that “Economic stress also was a factor, with those who expressed negative views about the economy in 2012 “more likely to express key negative cultural attitudes in 2016,” according to a news release summarizing the findings.” However, writes Balz, Sides also found that there was “no statistically significant relationship between trade attitudes and vote choice in either election [2012 or 2016]. Nor was the widely discussed issue of economic anxiety more important in 2016 than in 2012.”

Balz shares a “typology of the Trump Coalition” presented by Emily Ekins of the Cato Institute. As Balz writes:

She labels his core constituency as “American Preservationists” who comprise about a fifth of his supporters, and are less loyal Republicans than are other Trump voters. They lean economically progressive, think the political systems are rigged and have “nativist immigration views and a nativist and ethnocultural conception of American identity.”

About 1 in 3 Trump supporters are “Staunch Conservatives.” Ekins writes that they are “steadfast fiscal conservatives, embrace moral traditionalism and have a moderately nativist conception of American identity and approach to immigration.”…“Free Marketers,” a quarter of Trump supporters, hold more moderate-to-liberal views on race and immigration and supported Trump primarily because of their dislike for Clinton. “Anti-Elites,” about a fifth of the Trump coalition, are motivated by a belief that the political systems are rigged but take a more moderate position on immigration, race and national identity. She labeled a small fraction of his supporters as “The Disengaged” and said they feel unable to influence political and economic institutions.

The typology seems excessively rigid, however, since most voters hold overlapping constellations of priorities and concerns that change from day to day. In addition, the scandals and failures of the Trump Administration since election day have whittled his supporters down to the hard core, as his tanking approval ratings suggest.

As for relevance to the 2018 midterm elections, the erosion of Trump’s credibility since last year raises furhter doubts about how many of his former supporters are going to vote for his fellow Republicans in 2018. It remains equally unclear how many are going to even show up at the polls.

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