Misunderstanding Donald Trump's supporters

All these factors parallel what polls tend to show regarding Trump supporters, which makes other characteristics of Disaffecteds relevant to a discussion about Trump’s support. Disaffecteds disapprove of the welfare state, but they endorse entitlements like Social Security and Medicare. They are much more likely than the group Pew pegs as “Staunch Conservatives” to support labor unions, as well as taxes as part of a budget solution. However, the Disaffecteds split on abortion, with a slight majority favoring legal abortion in most or all cases. They are less critical of Obamacare than other segments of the GOP coalition, but they are among the most critical of Wall Street. They watch Fox News as much as other Republicans (and Hard-Pressed Democrats), but few of them listen to Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck. And lastly, more of them consider themselves conservative than consider themselves conservative Republicans.

Yet many of Trump’s critics and rivals presume his supporters are Staunch Conservatives, when Disaffecteds differ in clear and important ways. True Trump supporters may not be dissuaded by attacks on his more progressive positions, because they either do not consider these issues important, or their own views actually coincide with Trump’s. Indeed, it should not be presumed that the average person—as opposed to a political junkie—is much concerned with policies at this point in the cycle, except for those receiving broad media coverage (i.e. immigration).

On the other hand, we should also not assume that if Trump flames out—which seems likely, given this strong field of candidates—his supporters will necessarily flow into the camp of the prevailing Republican candidate. Indeed, the Real Clear Politics average of polls suggests Trump’s rise has depressed most of his rivals in the field, regardless of policy or ideology. That, or it’s expanded the pool of people willing to tell pollsters they will vote in the GOP primaries.

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