We all stupidly overestimate the share of certain demographics in the other party based on our stereotypes about them, as the other results in this poll demonstrate. Democrats? “Highly gay, extremely atheist,” Republicans will tell you. But no, not true. Even a passing familiarity with national demographics would clue you in that there are just too few gays and atheists overall in the population to create a large percentage in either party. It’s true of course that there are more gays and atheists among Democrats than among Republicans, but GOPers seem to extrapolate from that (as well as the fact that both are groups that have gotten much greater media attention in recent years than in the past) that there are way, way, way more.
But at least those stereotypes aren’t contradicted by other stereotypes about the same party. Since Election Day 2016, when Trump shocked the world by flipping a critical chunk of Obama’s white working-class support, the stereotype of Trump supporters is that they’re — well, that they’re the Conners from “Roseanne.” Blue-collar, no college education, based outside cities, hit hard by deindustrialization and the opioid crisis. Remember Tom Hanks’s character from that famous SNL “Black Jeopardy” skit? That’s the stereotype. The downscale “forgotten” white American had rallied to Trump based on his protectionist promises to bring jobs back and his waging of culture war against liberal sacred cows.
You would think that image would somewhat deflate the other stereotype the left has of Republicans, that they’re a party of country-clubbers looking to deregulate their way into being able to afford a second private jet. You’d also think that five seconds of contemplation would reveal to them that it’s b-a-n-a-n-a-s to believe that nearly half of a major political party, with tens of millions of members, might be worth $250,000.
But stereotypes are powerful things. In fact, I wonder if there’s a relationship between the degree of anxiety one feels about a particular constituency in the other party and the extent to which one is likely to overestimate that constituency’s size. The most disproportionate overestimation here, by far, is Dems overshooting on the number of fatcats in the GOP:
What’s interesting about Dems missing wildly on the fatcat group is that they’re not too wide of the mark on the others. (I probably would have guessed larger on the 65+ group in the GOP myself, although not as much as they did.) Ask them about evangelicals, a group not widely admired by lefties, and they’re still in the ballpark of the actual share of Republican voters. Ask them about rich people and not only are they not in the same area code, they’re not on the same continent.
Democrats would point to Ryanism, the recent tax cut, Romney’s infamous remark about the “47 percent,” the fact that Trump was the most famous billionaire in America even before he became president, and a million other things to justify their misperception. Right, the stereotype doesn’t come from nowhere, but that still doesn’t explain the magnitude of the overestimation. Lefties would say, I assume, that it’s a reflection of how much energy Republican pols devote to advancing the interests of the rich compared to the interests of Trumpers. It must be that rank-and-file Republican voters are affluent on average, they assume, or else why would they let their political leaders get away with spending so much energy on protecting the wealthy?
To which a lot of Bannon-style right-wing populists would say: Indeed.
I’ll stick up for Republicans on one of their stereotypes about Dems too. It’s not true that atheists/agnostics are a large minority in the Democratic Party but it is true that people unaffiliated with any faith are. Fully 26 percent of Democrats are unaffiliated per PRRI, and among the total population of unaffiilateds, 33 percent identify as Democrat versus just 11 percent who call themselves Republican. It’s easy to confuse that with atheism since, when you hear “unaffiliated,” you may equate it with “nonreligious.” Many unaffiliateds do believe in God even if they’re just not part of any denomination, but it’s an understandable mistake. And needless to say, the share of both unaffiliateds and actual atheists looks set to rise on the left in years to come.