Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
For the last two months I have been following the US Presidential primaries from the United Kingdom. As I sit helplessly in my dorm room watching in horror as delegate after delegate goes to Donald J. Trump, all I can think about is how much I want to do all I can to stop this terrible man from destroying my party and my country. I want to make phone calls, organize on my college campus, intern with Marco Rubio’s campaign, and go door to door. But unfortunately, because of obvious geographic issues, I can do none of these things.
In desperation to try to avert what seems like the inevitable I decided a few days ago that I would try to make at least a minor difference in the outcome of this election by posting on social media. However, I quickly realized that this wouldn’t work. It turns out I only know one Donald Trump supporter, and I think he might be joking. Social media helps its users spread their ideas among their friends but the problem I face is that my friends all agree with me. So I set out to solve this problem – where are all the Trump supporters and why can’t I find them?
This realization was honestly a bit of a surprise. Unlike many students at a liberal college, I have relatively deep connections to the conservative movement. I know business conservatives, social conservatives, and libertarians. In fact, many of my conservative friends are closer to the far right than they are to the center. Despite the diversity of beliefs in my social network not one of my acquaintances intends to vote for Trump. The vast majority of them support Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, there’s a smattering of support for Kasich, and they have plenty of nostalgia for Jeb! and Rand Paul.
For a candidate who is currently smashing the rest of the field, this phenomenon seemed odd and I wanted to find out why it is occurring. My first suspicion was that my education might be the reason I don’t know Trump supporters. I figured that Trump must have very little support from college-educated voters because they likely have more political and civic knowledge than those with only a high school education. This was an elitist assumption, I know, but one that is roughly in line with the current media narrative.
It turns out I was wrong. While there is a positive correlation between educational attainment and an anti-Trump ballot, Trump still gains plenty of support from college graduates. Since New Hampshire, Trump has won the vote of college graduates in every race. Even in Iowa, the one state he lost, Trump finished with 22% of the college graduate vote, only 5% behind Marco Rubio, the winner of the category. Surprisingly, in South Carolina and Nevada, Trump went even further and won the support of voters with post-graduate degrees as well. I know plenty of well-educated Republicans and not a single one of them supports Trump even though more than 25% of them should.
My second guess was that I tend to associate mostly with higher-income conservatives. That certainly ties into another major media narrative that argues voters are turning to Trump because they have a lack of economic opportunity. While there is once again a positive correlation between income and voting against Trump, it is nowhere near as strong as I thought it would be. In New Hampshire and South Carolina, Trump won every income group. In fact, in New Hampshire, there was only a 7% gap in Trump support between individuals who make less than $30,000 a year and those who make 200k. It seems that, while I mostly associate with wealthier conservatives, I should still know Trump supporters.
Finally, I guessed that most Trump supporters are older. I never imagined that a college student could be drawn to a 69-year-old relic of the 1980s. Sadly, I was incredibly wrong. While in South Carolina, Trump did get an age bump among the elderly, it was actually Millennials who were Trump’s most ardent supporters in New Hampshire. In that race, 38% of voters aged 18-29 voted for Trump. That’s 7% more than individuals who were 65 and older. It turns out that I’m actually in one of Trump’s target demographics.
I have a few more suspicions about the lack of Trump supporters in my social circles, but I’m unable to support those guesses with data from exit polls or my friend group. One hypothesis is that Trump supporters may just not exist in larger cities like Washington DC and Philadelphia, the places I spend most of my time. I can’t test this, however, because I’m not sure how many of my conservative friends actually live in or come from cities since they are scattered throughout the country. I also can’t test this suspicion because the only major city that has voted so far is Las Vegas; a place that likely doesn’t adhere to the normal rules of politics (or the real world).
My other hypothesis is that most of my conservative friends are uniquely well-informed voters who have been politically active for years. That isn’t to say they are all establishment Republicans. Many of them are involved in grassroots politics. Unfortunately, there isn’t data showing how well Trump does among GOP activists or strong ideologues, but I think this hypothesis could be the closest to the truth. Just from anecdotal observations of televised interviews, most of Trump’s supporters seem to be casual supporters or first time voters with relatively flexible beliefs.
This election defies demographic analysis and has given me plenty of anguish about the future of the GOP. If you happen to know any Trump supporters please help me get in touch with them. I want to know more about what makes a Trump supporter tick, but more essentially, talking to a Trump supporter will at least give me a chance to do my part by making a conversion to the increasingly terrified anti-Trump coalition.
Featured image courtesy of businessinsider.com