Contributor: Tom Beer
First, a verse.
They Voted for Trump…
The oil baroness with tobacco stained teeth.
The car salesman, well off.
Gentlemen farmers, the churched, and priests.
Trades men and their wives, and
The stock market player.
As it gets crazier every day, the Presidential election looms and one wonders if the voters who went for Trump in 2016 will hold. Rock solid over four years, might his base be crumbling. He’s become a contact spreader of the Corona virus in his own White House, now a Petri dish. He continues to mock science, but that hasn’t alienated many in his tribe. His advice in the face of two-hundred thousand plus deaths is: be not afraid. He licked it, so can we. Crowds continue to show at his rallies, mask less and unafraid, at least of the Corona virus.
His aggression at the first debate with Joe Biden didn’t alienate his base, although it scares the hell out of me. Boasts, calls on the far, far and militarized right for action; “stand back and stand ready.” His base doesn’t shy from this. He wants his Attorney General to indict Biden and Obama for “the greatest political crimes in the history of the country.” His base cheers.
Meanwhile the media reports erosion in his base, and speculates his recent irrational utterances are drug induced, from the dexamethasone he got from doctors at Walter Reed hospital. The drug produces mild to severe psychiatric effects. Maybe he’s been on it for some time.
Trump’s base is not a monolith of course, but rather a hodgepodge of political outliers, ideologies and interests. Knowing how each might be reacting to the whorl of crises, news feeds and Trump himself might, when it comes to voting, shed light on the chances the liar-in-chief has to beat Joe Biden come November 3rd.
The New York Times has it this way. “A significant majority of people who voted for him (Trump) in 2016 are planning to do so again.” (7/2020). The 86% who said they’d support him were surveyed before his recent outbursts. Over half of the others surveyed said they could vote for him again. That’s nearly 95% of those who rang him up last time. Depending in what states they vote and who turns out for Biden, Trump’s base will decide if he gets a second term.
Major parts of Trump’s base:
Older and senior voters. They voted for Trump in 2016 in battle ground states by seven or eight points, according to The New Yorker. In Wisconsin only by 1%. But Trump’s handling of the Corona virus has dampened older voter enthusiasm for him, and Biden has made defense of Social Security and Medicare a major feature in ad campaigns. Seniors are a huge block. They cling to set issues when considering a presidential pick: the economy, Supreme Court appointments, violent crime. Prediction: Trump slips with this element, and depending where, it could spell big trouble for him.
Evangelical voters. Seven in ten (72%) of white evangelical Protestants say they approve of Trump’s handling of his job (Pew 7/2020) . Of other white Christians (non-evangelicals, Catholics) majorities continue to support Trump. His pick of a Christian conservative to fill the seat vacated by RBG’s death must ramp the Christian conservative vote. Big advantage Trump. Yet other Christian voters (African Americans, Hispanics, liberal Christians) could off-set the evangelical tide. Prediction: Trump’s evangelical base stays solidly with him.
The wealthy. In 2016 The Guardian reported America’s white and wealthy voters, including white college graduates and white female voters, went for Trump. No surprise. Stock market performance continues to be an important issue for Trump, who claims he caused its upside, downplays its nose-dives, and touts any job growth as his achievement. He conflates economic security with wealth (“How’s your 401K doing.”), but the clear evidence is a large majority of middle and lower-class earners aren’t enjoying great benefits from the market or other Trump policies. The wealthy do vote, and while their numbers aren’t large, they can influence other voters, e.g. their employees. Prediction: Trump backers still.
White women. Recent data (All-In-Together, 9/20) show white women favor Biden over Trump. Still, non-college educated white women voted for Trump in 2016. They are 27%-29% of voters in the 2020 battle-ground states, compared to 12%-14% for college educated women in those states. Another poll (Washington Post/ABC News) has non-college educated white women in Minnesota and Wisconsin leaning Biden on all major issues, including handling of the economy, the pandemic, violence, and race relations. Maybe important, polls see a majority of independent white women voting for Biden. Prediction: Issues matter, despite white men going for Trump, white women go Biden.
Ideological elements in Trump’s 2016 tribe (2017 Voter Study Group; these are not necessarily distinct from above voter blocks):
American preservationists. They made up 20% of Trump’s 2016 vote. They are progressive on economics, but believe economic and political systems are rigged, and hold a nativist concept of identity. The new Know-nothings, suburban moderates and less loyal Republicans.
Free marketers. Believe in small government and are fiscal conservatives and moderate to liberal on immigration and race. Made up 25% of Trump’s 2016 vote. Small farmers and good-hearted small business people.
Anti-elites. Economically progressive and believe systems are rigged. Moderate on immigration, race and American identity. Nineteen percent of the vote. Young third-party voters and union members who voted for Obama and Bernie.
Staunch conservatives. Fiscal conservatives who embrace traditionalism, moderate on immigration, moderately nativist. Made up 31% of Trump’s vote. Bankers, corporate executives, Republicans who won’t abandon the party.
The pundits have sliced and diced Trump’s base. Some argue the base is shrinking, and perhaps it never was that solid, or just partially there. Political coalitions, if that’s what Trump’s base is, don’t last, and like the polar ice cap, his may be melting. One big thing is that the number of white voters without a college education, which went big for Trump last time, has shrunk from 45% to 41% of the electorate. Meanwhile, numbers of whites and Latinos and Asian Americans with college degrees are growing. Overlay all this on key battleground states where the election may be decided. Parts of Trump’s base are sure to stand pat, others have been flaking off, at least a little. The polarization that seems baked into our politics will not crumble in 2020. Under the daily presence of a president whose behavior disgusts, alienates and outrages many of us, his own base twitches just a little. Throw in non-voters (one third of eligible voters in 2016), new voters (will young voters show up?), and election mayhem a la Trump’s doing, and we have a circus.
*Restoring American Democracy