Arvanitakis on American politics: Five types of Trump supporters

| December 7, 2019

Trump’s support and the impeachment

Listening to Monday’s FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the hosts reflect on the impact of the impeachment on the American voting public. One point made is the ongoing correlation between American voters who believe Trump should be impeached and those that think he is not performing well as President: approximately 48 percent.

In other words, the hearings held into Donald Trump have done little to convince those who support Trump or are yet to make up their mind that the radical step of actually impeaching the President should be undertaken. In fact, a recent poll aimed at rank and file Republicans found that 53-percent-to-47-percent majority, favour Trump over Abraham Lincoln.

Why does Trump retain support?

It is hard to know exactly why but we can speculate on a number of reasons.

The first is that a vast majority of the American public are turning off politics. According to the Pew Research Centre, not only does the public now render a “hard judgment on the state of political discourse” seeing it “less respectful, less fact-based and less substantive” to the point that for most Americans, “their own conversations about politics have become stressful experiences that they prefer to avoid.”

The second reason is that many Americans see the impeachment as just another tactic to deal with the 2016 election loss that Democrats refuse to accept. While many of us find the evidence in the impeachment hearings compelling, the truth is that many American voters do not believe that the Democrats have acted in good faith.

From the Mueller Investigation that found “evidence not sufficient to support criminal charges” to Freshman Representative Rashida Tlaib declaration in January that the newly installed Democratic majority in the House will “go in there and impeach the motherf***er” before any evidence was presented, many see a party obsessed with Trump rather than one interested in governing.

We should also remember that 12 months ago, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler was overheard on a train roughly a year ago laying out the plan for impeachment – even though the plan at that point was devoid of an alleged crime.

Beyond the deplorables: understanding Trump’s supporters

Regardless of the reason, one mistake that should not be repeated is to homogenise all Trump supporters as Hilary Clinton did when she made the infamous ‘basket of deplorables’ comment.

To understand why many Americans still support the Trump Administration, there is a need to take a more subtle approach. Reflecting on the thousands of articles on this issue, we would like to present five different types of Trump supporters. While this builds on work undertaken by others, these groupings are based on our own observations and analysis.

1. ‘I always vote Republican’

The first group are those that are Republican voters. Recent data from the Voter Study Group highlighted that more than 80 percent of Trump supporters came from voters who voted for Republican nominee Mitt Romney just four years before. This is your traditional American Republicans: tax-cut advocates, religious evangelicals, gun rights supporters and business types eager for deregulation.

While many may not like Trump himself, his Administration has given them enough to keep them onside. Simultaneously, these voters see no home in a Democrat Party they deem obsessed with chasing Trump.

2. ‘Anti-politics’ voters

It has been noted previously that data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study — an election survey of around 50,000 people – found that 12 percent of people who voted for Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries went on to vote for Trump in the general election.

These voters have been the focus of researchers who believe that a growing segment of the American electorate which was once both peripheral and ignored are now drawn to ‘chaos incitement’. They see the current system as failing them and would like to see the system dramatically changed – and Trump offers them that opportunity.

3. The disenfranchised middle and working class

A reoccurring theme over the last decade by economic commentators – including reports by the OECD – have described how economic liberalisation has witnessed the hollowing out of the middle class. Those that feel left behind see someone in Trump that is willing to do things differently.

As noted by Salena Zito, many feel that while Trump may be brash, he is offering an alternative. Further, he is perceived as paying attention to the rust belt. As one of those Zito interviewed noted, “If you live and work in Washington, New York or the West Coast, you don’t know anyone like me.”

What we have seen from Reagan through to Obama is a relative continuity of foreign and domestic policies including various interventionist foreign policies and economic liberalisation. You may not feel that Trump has the solutions, but he does acknowledge that many have been left behind – and even traditional union-based Democrats see him as the only politician speaking to them.

4. American Nationalists

Associated with point 3 above are those that believe America has lost its place in the world and negotiated away its economic supremacy. As James S. Robbins, an opinion columnist from USA Today wrote, while Donald Trump has been criticized for embracing nationalism, the patriotic appeal for national unity and pride is what many see America needs.

Not all of us are comfortable with such patriotic calls, but then nation-state remains the most influential institution in our lives. Trump’s clear America-first rhetoric is appealing for those who feel that the nation has suffered while many others, both Republicans and Democrats, have focused on a cosmopolitan globalism.

5. The Trumpers

All this does not dismiss a specific portion of the Trump base that is attracted to his anti-political correctness rhetoric. The Trumpers feed off Trump’s claims that Christmas can no longer be celebrated and that migrants are the source of America’s social and economic ills.

These are all baseless claims – and sometimes openly racist – but appeal to a certain percentage of the population who have seen a society change in such a way that they no longer recognise it.

Again, it is simple to call them deplorables, and sure some may be, but such insults ignore the reasons they have turned to Trump. Insults, if anything, have hardened their support for Trump.

The Trump Administration has offered a platform to each of these groups and the impeachment seems to have done little to convince them that Democrats provide an alternative worth supporting.

Unless a more subtle approach is taken in responding to the issues raised by those drawn to Trump, then the move to impeach Trump will continue to divide the nation.

This article was co-written by Dr Jason B. McConnell, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Wyoming whose work over the last ten years has focused on speech issues on contemporary college campuses. Jason’s recent research has examined the relationship between perceptions of racism, sexism, and bigotry and university policies designed to combat those issues while also protecting free expression.