Who elected Donald Trump?—conservatives?…free traders?…isolationists?…well educated?…less educated?…bigots?…high-income voters?…low- income voters?…anti-immigration voters?…liberal immigration voters?…pro government-mandated health care voters…anti government-mandated healthcare voters? The answer is Yes.
Many people are still asking, “How did this happen?” The question, of course, refers to the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America. Dr. Emily Ekins, Director of Polling at the Cato Institute, has provided the most definitive answer that we’ve seen yet to that nettlesome question. Her analysis of data relating to the 2016 election provides some interesting answers to the questions people are still asking.
She observes, that like all elections, there is no one type of voter in a country as diverse as America that puts anyone into the White House. It’s always an amalgam of voters, a coalition of voters, often with different interests who decide who sits in the oval office. This election was no different. There was no basket of deplorables, but there was a basket of converging interests.
That basket consisted of five different types of voters. The largest, (31% of the basket) was, as might be expected, simply staunch conservatives. They were no more likely to vote for Hillary than staunch liberals were to vote for Trump.
The next largest segment of the Trump coalition was (is) what Ekins calls the free marketers. While they probably voted for other Republicans in the primaries, they cast their ballots for Trump over Hillary on election day. They made up about 25% of the Trump coalition. They have the highest level of education and income among the Trump voters. They also are, ironically, favorable towards immigrants and racial minorities. As Ekins, notes, they look just like Democrats on those questions. They really want to make it easier to legally immigrate to the United States, They are, by and large, free traders and free marketers, so government controlled healthcare is not a high priority with these voters. They also happen to be very fiscally conservative. Not surprisingly, they were not prepared to turn the national fisc over to Hillary Clinton.
The group Ekins calls “the preservationists” is the group most people assume were the typical Trump voters, but they were, in fact, only about two voters out of every ten of the coalition. They have lower levels of education and, correspondingly, lower levels of income. They are the underemployed, with about half relying on Medicaid. Ironically, they are the least like Republicans in the Trump coalition. They like raising taxes on the wealthy, they’re very concerned about Medicare, and they’re actually more economically progressive. On the other hand, they’re not very receptive to immigration. They don’t like illegal immigration nor are they particularly fond of legal immigration. While they seem like Democrats by many criteria, they actually want to make it much harder for people to legally immigrate to the United States. Perhaps, more than any other issue, immigration is what draws them to Trump.
A little farther down the food chain, we have the anti-elites who make up about nineteen percent of the Trump coalition. They rather uniformly are progressive on economic issues, and they have no particular problem with immigration. They did, however, have a problem with Hillary Clinton and were probably the group most influenced by the anti-Clinton news coverage. This group seems to offset the voters who were undoubtedly negatively influenced by the anti-Trump news coverage.
Finally, but not surprisingly, the Trump coalition was topped off by the five percent who were simply disengaged voters. These are the voters who typically answer “I don’t know,” to most of the issue-oriented questions pollsters ask. About the only things about which they seem to have pretty firm opinions are concern about immigration and elites. Both groups make them uncomfortable. The “disengaged” voters tend to be a little bit younger, have a little bit less education, don’t pay much attention to politics, but are skeptical about immigration. Trump was unambiguous about his animus toward immigrants and that got him what he needed from the otherwise disengaged voter.
One thing that really stands out in Ekins analysis of polling data is that liberal immigration policies are somewhat of a minefield in today’s political environment. Cutting immigration across the board would find very little opposition across the American body politic. Even those who don’t consider themselves anti-immigration warmed up to the idea of Trump’s temporary ban on immigration from certain countries. Given the vital role immigration has played in the growth and success of the American experiment, we find it sad that immigration has become, (as it has always been) perhaps, the easiest issue to demagogue.