Who are Trump voters? A new portrait emerges

Donald Trump’s most staunch supporters may not be worse off because of global trade, says a new survey. But they may have reason to be concerned by ailing communities around them.

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    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump talks with a group of factory workers during a tour of McLanahan Corporation headquarters, a company that manufactures mineral and agricultural equipment, while campaigning in Hollidaysburg, Pa.
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A new Gallup survey, based on interviews of some 87,000 Americans, provides the most detailed portrait to date of Donald Trump’s voters – and complicates the notion that a class of jilted workers has fueled his rise.

“The results show mixed evidence that economic distress has motivated Trump support,” writes author Jonathan Rothwell, a senior economist at Gallup. “His supporters are less educated and more likely to work in blue collar occupations,” but higher household incomes also tended to predict support for the candidate. That held true among both white Republicans as well as among a wider swath of the public.

But under a more expansive notion of prosperity – one that takes into account the health of one’s community – Trumpism may indeed be the cry of an ailing America, one detached from the dynamism and diversity of urban areas where older generations are more likely to watch their sons and daughters flourish. And the survey’s findings may indicate that even if Mr. Trump loses the election in November, the politics of malaise may survive him.

The Republican candidate has proven a master of unsettling political-science orthodoxies. In January, Politico noted that early on in his ascent, analysts and bloggers often cited the 2008 book “The Party Decides” – which argued that unelected interests in both major parties were ultimately responsible for selecting their party’s presidential candidate – in predicting that the GOP would eventually coalesce against him.

David Karol, a University of Maryland professor of government and one of the co-authors of the book, told Politico that Trump had “flummoxed” the Republican party elite.

"I think they're kind of at a loss; they've never had to have a Plan B before,” he said then.

In some ways, the new survey’s findings are similarly counterintuitive.

As the Washington Post notes, several analyses of polling data have discovered that Mr. Trump performed best during Republican primaries in areas where manufacturing jobs have disappeared due to trade competition, particularly from China. A Wall Street Journal analysis on Thursday, for instance, found that Trump had won “89 of the 100 counties most affected by competition from China.”

The Gallup survey, somewhat conversely, turns out “no link whatsoever” between exposure to trade competition and support for Trump’s nationalist politics. But it was in other measures of what Mr. Rothwell calls “social well-being” – how likely a person’s children are to surpass them socioeconomically, as well as how healthy one is likely to be and how long they are likely to live – that communities thick with Trump supporters tend to lag behind.

Those communities are also more likely to be redoubts of segregated whiteness, meaning the xenophobia that has marred Trump’s campaign is likely giving voice to perceptions that are more a matter of notion than of lived experience. That finding bears out other studies showing that Trump support is strongly correlated with the presence of few immigrants in a given area.

“Constant support for Trump is highly elevated in areas with few college graduates,” writes Rothwell, “far from the Mexican border, and in neighborhoods that standout within the commuting zone for being white, segregated enclaves, with little exposure to blacks, [Asians], and Hispanics.”

 
 
 

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