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Attempting To Understand The Trump Voter

To understand those who support and vote at the polls for Donald Trump, we must attempt to disregard everything we think we know about the Trump voter.

It is a common misconception that his supporters all conform to a distinct set of characteristics; they are white, working-class gun owners who dislike immigration and are motivated by racism, nativism, nationalism, and the preservation of Americanism.

In the past, attempts to distinguish Trump voters from non-Trump voters, have focused on attitudes towards Hillary Clinton, the economy, illegal immigration, and specifically Muslim immigration. Whilst perhaps applicable to a percentage of Trump supporters in 2016, it does not account for everyone, nor explain Trump’s current success ahead of the 2024 Election.

A 2017 study of Trump voters found the former president’s supporters to fall into five categories: staunch conservatives (31%), free marketeers (25%), American preservationists (20%), anti-elitists (19%) and those classified as disengaged (5%).

Those who voted for the Republican candidate in 2016 are viewed as having done so either because they genuinely supported Donald Trump or because they were actively voting against Hillary Clinton. But understanding Trump voters in 2024 is arguably different to 2016.

Support for the former president has increased since 2016 amongst those who consider themselves to be ‘very conservative’. Of those who adopt this description, 27% supported Trump in February 2016 versus the 61% who supported Trump in March 2023.

Support for Donald Trump is also dependent on who he is running against. For example, why did he beat Hillary Clinton in 2016 but not Joe Biden in 2020, if support for the former president has only increased? I would argue it’s because his supporters do not all conform to one stereotype, but they do all have one thing in common – the ability to overlook his indiscretions.

Over the past 8 years, the ‘Make America Great Again’ (MAGA) movement has taken on a new form and attracted a new wave of support. Despite proven election interference, two impeachment trials, several criminal indictments, and an insurrection, the former president remains hugely popular in Republican circles.

After the January 6, 2021 insurrection, Trump gained and lost support. Whilst some who worked closely with the former president have since relinquished their backing, many average American voters have demonstrated increased loyalty.

According to a Washington Post-University of Maryland Poll from December 2023, which surveyed 1,024 adults, the American people are now more loyal to Donald Trump than they were in the aftermath of January 6.

In a series of statements, respondents were asked whether they considered protesters who entered the Capitol on January 6, 2021 to be peaceful. In December 2021, 19% of respondents believed they were ‘mostly peaceful’ as opposed to 21% in December 2023.

When asked if the punishments given to the protesters were appropriate, 19% of respondents believed they were ‘too harsh’ in December 2021 compared to 26% in December 2023.

Respondents were also asked how much responsibility Donald Trump holds for the events of January 6, 2021. In December of the same year, 43% considered him to hold ‘a great deal’ whilst in December 2023 this reduced to 37% of respondents.

When asked whether, regardless of their own political affiliation, they believed Joe Biden’s election in 2020 to be legitimate, 69% agreed in December 2021 as opposed to 62% of respondents in December 2023.

At the end of the survey, respondents were asked whether they considered themselves to be a Democrat (33%), Republican (31%), Independent (26%) or other (9%) and 1% declined to answer.  

Trump has already won the GOP primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire this month and is set to continue this streak. He is currently polling ahead of his opponent, Nikki Haley and will likely become the Republican nominee later this year.

We can use polling data and election analysis to make informed projections about the likelihood of certain groups voting in a particular way – but it does not necessarily help us understand the Trump voter. Although his supporters may tend to have shared characteristics and ideological similarities, this doesn’t explain his continued success. 

Trump is beloved not because he appeals to the largest demographic in America, but because he represents a new age of populism. He uses language and addresses his followers in a way that attracts the wealthy and the working-class, men and women, young and old, people from all races and those previously inclined to vote Democrat or not vote at all.

In a survey of 7,732 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents between June and August 2023, it is clear Trump retains significant popularity amongst a range of voters.

The former president has support from younger Republicans including those 25-44 (53%) and 18-24 (48%) as well as older Republicans aged 65 and older (53%). He is also consistent across all geographic areas but particularly strong  in rural communities and holds significant support regardless of socio-economic status.

Trump also leads other Republican candidates amongst all racial and ethnic groups including 53.9% of Hispanic Republicans, 52.2% of White Republicans, 48.3% of African American Republicans and 42.8% of Asian American Republicans.

The survey presented “a picture of overwhelming domination by Trump across virtually all facets of the Republican Party”.

Support for Donald Trump across certain demographics is not guaranteed but definitely more likely: those who are male, white, older, working class and from rural areas.

But the results of this survey, and others like this, show that we must look beyond demographics to fully understand the Trump voter.

Edited by: Kaiyah Ellison

Photo credit: Reuters/Carlos Barria

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