Do the Polls Matter?

President Trump is historically unpopular and has consistently trailed Joe Biden. He could still win.

Longtime political analyst Ronald Brownstein offers an unusual perspective on the 2020 race. Noting that President Trump’s approval numbers have been steadily within the 40-45 percent range and that neither good news nor bad changes that, he concludes that our normal assumptions about how politics work may no longer apply.

The durability of both support and opposition to Trump shows how the motivation for voters’ choices is shifting from transitory measures of performance, such as the traditional metrics of peace and prosperity, toward bedrock attitudes about demographic, cultural and economic change. The immovability of the battle lines in 2020 captures how thoroughly the two parties are now unified — and separated — by their contrasting attitudes toward these fundamental changes, with Trump mobilizing overwhelming support from the voters who are hostile to them, no matter what else happens, and the contrasting coalition of Americans who welcome this evolution flocking toward the Democrats.

“That is certainly what gives Trump a floor: By stoking those cultural war fires you are going to win over a certain share of the electorate that has this more racist and sexist and xenophobic views,” says Brian Schaffner, a Tufts University political scientist who has extensively studied the correlation between political preferences and cultural attitudes. “But it also prevents him from winning over these other people who would otherwise be conservative or be open to voting Republican, but simply can’t stomach that culture war stuff he is so focused on.”

The prevailing wisdom of both political scientists and media pundits going back at least six decades is that voters vote based on expected performance, with economic issues being particularly salient. Are we now so tribal that outside indicators are irrelevant?

Given that polling has shown Americans increasingly identify as “independent” rather than with either of the two dominant parties, one could easily dismiss the idea. But that trend may well be a function of the degree to which the two parties have sorted along cultural lines. And, indeed, that seems to be Brownstein’s argument:

Over the long term, the durability of attitudes toward Trump spotlights the likelihood of a widening rift between two Americas fundamentally diverging in both their exposure to and attitudes about such fundamental dynamics as the nation’s growing racial and religious diversity, rising demands for greater racial equality, changing gender roles and the transition from an industrial to an information age economy.”When your identity and view of [the nation’s] identity overlaps with your partisan identity so much, it’s hard to ever consider shifting sides,” Schaffner says.

As I’ve noted many times, my Twitter and Facebook feeds are incredibly different. The former, consisting mostly of other national security professionals and academics, are almost uniformly consumers of traditional elite media and decidedly anti-Trump. The latter, consisting mostly of people I went to high school or served in the Army with, mostly consume Fox News, Breitbart, and other right-leaning news sources and are decidedly pro-Trump. In the latter camp, there are some who disdain Trump’s personal style and decry his lack of impulse control. But they still think he’s a far better alternative than Joe Biden, who they see as a stalking horse for an extreme leftist movement.

That said, the notion that culture and attitude are the only things that matter aren’t borne out in the polling. Brownstein seems to acknowledge that:

Biden by any measure retains the upper hand in the presidential race. He holds a consistent lead in national polls and usually leads in five of the swing states both sides consider the most competitive (Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona and Florida), with the two men usually running about even in the sixth (North Carolina).

All of those were states Trump won in 2016; by contrast, the President does not lead in any state that Hillary Clinton carried last time. And polls put Biden within range, to varying degrees, in four other states Trump carried: Iowa and Georgia, especially, but also Ohio and even Texas.

Clearly, then, something has happened in the last four years. I would posit that that something is the Trump presidency. People in the “swing” states are clearly swinging mostly in one direction: away from Trump.

But Brownstein argues that this may be misleading:

But even Democrats acknowledge that Biden’s advantage isn’t large enough to guarantee him victory in the Electoral College. Because all of the key swing states lean slightly more Republican than the nation overall, even a slight improvement for Trump might put him in position to win 270 Electoral College votes.

What’s more, Biden’s national advantage over Trump isn’t meaningfully different than it was a year ago, despite the searing intervening event of a pandemic that soon will have claimed 200,000 American lives. To take one measure, the Real Clear Politics average of national polls last October showed Biden at 50.1% and Trump at 43.4%; the result last weekend was 50.5% to 43% — virtually unchanged.

That the deaths of nearly 200,000 Americans from the coronavirus—and the related economic collapse—hasn’t noticeably changed the race* is rather staggering. Brownstein’s explanation for why that is strikes me as reasonable. But, of course, that works both ways: what could happen between now and Election Day to measurably increase Trump’s support? It’s hard to fathom.

“Things are very locked in because the reason you’re voting for Trump is not because of the economy or the response to coronavirus that he’s delivering but rather the image of protecting White people in America,” says Manuel Pastor, a sociologist and director of the Equity Research Institute at the University of Southern California. “He was doing dog whistles at the beginning, then he was doing bullhorns, now it’s like fireworks. And for some people it’s enthralling.”

Sure. But that works both ways: it deepens support and increases the propensity of turnout for those for whom white nationalism is salient. That’s a larger chunk of the electorate than I’d have guessed four years ago. But it’s still relatively small—and likely to push away a lot of people, like myself, who would otherwise prefer, say, Trump’s Supreme Court picks to Biden’s.

Still, the stickiness of the numbers is undeniable. And the argument that it’s unusual is convincing:

Mike Murphy, a veteran GOP strategist who now opposes Trump, says that 10 years ago he would have predicted that a public health and economic catastrophe of the coronavirus’ magnitude would have produced a “1980 level wipeout” for Trump and his party. In that year, dissatisfaction with President Jimmy Carter’s performance propelled not only a landslide win for Republican nominee Ronald Reagan, but also a sweep of 12 Democratic-held Senate seats that carried the GOP to control of the chamber. But such a decisive turn no longer appears possible, Murphy says. “Because politics mirrors [attitudes about] culture, we are kind of stuck,” he says.

Alan Abramowitz, an Emory University political scientist who has extensively studied the role of economic conditions and other fundamentals in presidential outcomes, agrees. Given the magnitude of the pandemic’s impact, “I probably would have expected that it would hurt him more than it has and Trump’s [approval and vote share] numbers would have dropped into the mid-30s,” he told me. “You would think Biden would be up 15 or 20, not 6 or 7 or 8 points. As long as it stays in that range, there’s still that outside chance … [Trump] can eke out narrow wins in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin and he could still win the electoral vote. I don’t think that’s very likely, but it’s not inconceivable.”

I absolutely agree that things have changed in this regard within my political memory. Jimmy Carter squeaked out a narrow victory, in both the popular and Electoral vote, in 1976 only to get trounced in 1980. George H.W. Bush won an Electoral landslide in 1988 and got trounced in 1992. No President since has failed in his re-election bid (we’ve had three straight two-term Presidents).

That nation has trended bluer for a variety of reasons since then. California went from a Republican “lock” as recently as 1988 to a surefire 55 Electors for the Democrats since. Still, I’m unconvinced by Brownstein’s overall thesis. After all, Barack Obama and George W. Bush both had huge swings in popularity during their terms in office.

My alternate hypothesis is that the stickiness is Trump-specific, not bound to the parties writ large. While I agree with Brownstein and others that party and cultural identity have hardened with sorting, Trump is uniquely polarizing.

And I’m highly skeptical that Trump can pull a repeat of 2016. I can’t conceive of the Hillary Clinton voter or eligible non-voter from four years ago that has become a Trump supporter. But there are clearly 2016 Trump voters who have grown disgusted with him. More importantly, the only recent major party nominee more polarizing that Trump was Hillary Clinton. She’s not on the ticket this year.

_______________________

*I’m not sure hypothetical matchups from two months before the first Democratic primary as directly comparable with the two party nominees at the height of the campaign, but that’s the only long-term indicator we have.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Donald Trump, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    My alternate hypothesis is that the stickiness is Trump-specific, not bound to the parties writ large.

    Yes, it’s called a cult of personality.

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  2. CSK says:

    Of course it’s Trump. I recall reading that, in 2016, there were people in the Deep South well into their forties and fifties who had never before voted in a presidential election. They came out to vote for Trump, because they felt he spoke to them and for them. No one else, according to them, had ever done that.

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  3. charon says:

    My alternate hypothesis is that the stickiness is Trump-specific, not bound to the parties writ large. While I agree with Brownstein and others that party and cultural identity have hardened with sorting, Trump is uniquely polarizing.

    Au contraire, it’s the partisanship division that is now locked in, Trump is merely there for it.

    LGM had an excellent analysis of that yesterday:

    https://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2020/09/white-patriarchal-supremacy-and-the-future-of-america

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  4. charon says:

    @charon:

    The top part of my linky:

    Why does almost the exact same proportion of the American public support or oppose the current Republican candidate for president over time, with this proportion neither increasing nor decreasing in response to changing economic conditions or anything else? This is the thing right here:

    The most powerful factor in the new stability may be the shift in the basis of voters’ allegiance to the parties. Increasingly, campaign strategists and political scientists agree, voters are choosing between the parties more on their views about fundamental demographic and cultural change than on their immediate financial circumstances or even their views of economic policies, such as taxes, spending and regulation.

    Partisan allegiances grounded in these fundamental measures of personal and national identity — such as whether the nation must do more to assure equal opportunity for people of color and women — appear highly resistant to reconsideration based on immediate events.

    In important research, Schaffner and his colleagues found that the denial that racism or sexism exists in America was the best predictor in the 2016 election of support for Trump, far more than any measures of economic distress. On the other side, Schaffner found that the belief that racism and sexism are serious problems predicted support for Clinton more powerfully than economic attitudes, as well.

    “Now the parties are very clearly sorted on issues of identity politics,” Schaffner says. “If you have fairly racist or sexist views you are … very likely to be a Republican. And if you have the opposite views you are very likely to be in the Democratic Party.”

    This by the way is from CNN. CNN has become a particular bete noire for both Trump and the right wing scream machine — as if there’s any real difference between those two entities — because it’s an indisputably mainstream news organization, but it still prints articles in which Republican voters get called racist and sexist for no better reason than that they hold racist and sexist views.

    There’s more, plus great discussion in the comments.

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  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    My alternate hypothesis is that the stickiness is Trump-specific

    Looking only at presidencies over the last 50 years, all, except Trump have embraced the rhetoric that they are president of all Americans and that America should strive to improve the lot of all its citizens. Even if they quietly sent the signal that some are more valuable than others or some deserved more assistance. The presentation was improving the lot for all Americans, while cultural issues were kept secondary. The primacy of that rhetoric, allowed voters to look beyond their tribal biases and focus on economic issues and the question as to whether the country is improving the life of its citizens. Trump moved the cultural issues to the forefront and used the economic and society betterment issues to distractions.

    If future R prez candidates return to the earlier model (a big if) we can return to the primacy of economic and society betterment being the deciding point. By the same token, if Dems put forth future prez candidates who seek to demonize segments of society, the primacy of cultural issues could continue.

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  6. charon says:

    @charon:

    One more brief LGM excerpt:

    That’s what it’s all about. Normal Americans view this election not as just an election but as an existential struggle — and in one sense they’re not wrong. They despise the idea of living in a country in which their views are labeled as “racist” and “sexist” by “the elites” (CNN!), when all they want to do is live their Normal Lives like Normal Americans in Normal America.

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  7. James Joyner says:

    @charon: That’s just the Brownstein story that’s the basis of this post!

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  8. charon says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    If future R prez candidates return to the earlier model (a big if) we can return to the primacy of economic and society betterment being the deciding point. By the same token, if Dems put forth future prez candidates who seek to demonize segments of society, the primacy of cultural issues could continue.

    Na ga hoppen, this is locked in. White Christian conservatives are in existential panic (rightly so) because of unfavorable demographic trends, they are predominately baby boomers and older, and their views are not shared by younguns. It’s now or never for packing the Federal judiciary and passing necessary vote suppression legislation to extend their minority rule.

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  9. reid says:

    @charon: That’s my feeling, too. The media world (online and more conventional) has changed dramatically since even the GWBush administration. Facebook was barely born then. Blogs and the internet in general weren’t nearly as ubiquitous. Seems to me that they have had a huge negative impact on politics in the last 5-10 years. Trump happens to be in the right place at the right time, though yes, Trump is certainly special.

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  10. Sleeping Dog says:

    Over at Bulwark, Mona Charen is focusing on the primary of cultural issues as well.

    https://thebulwark.com/the-democrats-made-me-do-it-excuse/

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  11. Kylopod says:

    The major problem I have with this sort of analysis is that elections always seem obvious in hindsight. I remember plenty of hand-wringing by Dems in 2008, even after the collapse of the banks. There was still PTSD over 2000 and 2004, still concerns about the Bradley Effect distorting the polls. After it was over, everyone looks back on it now and thinks “How could he not have won?”

    It’s occurred to me that Obama’s two victories contributed to the complacency in 2016. The biggest factor, of course, was that people simply couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea of Donald Trump winning the presidency. But surely part of it was that we’d just been through the experience: the Democrat appears to be significantly ahead in the polls, people wonder if it will be sustained–and it is. So people were more inclined to dismiss “maybe Trump can pull it off” pieces because they’d heard such things about Romney and McCain only to never see them come to fruition. Then after they finally at long last do in 2016, the Dems swing way in the other direction, wallowing in doubt and pessimism no matter how formidable their poll numbers look. If Biden wins, a lot of this will come to look just as silly and overly neurotic as it did in 2008. But if he loses, that same neuroticism will carry over into the next cycle so that Dems won’t believe they’re winning again until the moment they do.

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  12. HarvardLaw92 says:

    I think I’ve been saying this – the polls everyone is so focused on aren’t necessarily measuring the factors that will determine voting. They’re measuring the factors that used to determine voting. At basis, human beings are tribal. We, of course, want to believe that we as a species transcend that and make enlightened decisions, even altruistic ones, but it ain’t necessarily so. If better angels is all you’re staking hopes on, you may end up being disappointed.

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  13. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @charon:

    Na ga hoppen, this is locked in. White Christian conservatives are in existential panic (rightly so) because of unfavorable demographic trends, they are predominately baby boomers and older, and their views are not shared by younguns

    This seems to be to be wishful thinking and a mischaracterization of the support. I wouldn’t say it’s reasonably a divide between boomers and millenials. It’s much more a divide of urban vs. rural. Speaking anecdotally, some of the most vehement Trump supporters I have seen fall into the mid 20s to late 30’s range. Thinking of this as an age demographic divide, which will conveniently age itself out of existence, is misguided at best. America isn’t polarizing itself along old people versus young people lines – it’s polarizing itself around two very distinct and diametrically opposed worldviews about what America should look like, and that dichotomy isn’t rooted in nostalgia & it doesn’t align itself with age. It’s rooted in basic human nature.

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  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    Actually, yes it is age, among other things:

    2016 support for Trump:

    18-29: 28%
    30-49: 40%
    50-64: 51%
    65+: 53%

    A 65 year-old was almost twice as likely as an 18-29 year-old to vote for Trump in 2016. Current polling shows similar splits along generational lines. It’s reflected in issues questions as well.

    It’s also an educational divide, which itself also reflects the age gap. Clinton voters were 50% more likely to be college grads.

    The error in assumptions about demographics lie in the belief that Blacks are a growing percentage of the population. They are not. Hispanics and Asians are the growth demos, and Dems lead in both, though that must not be taken for granted.

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  15. Scott F. says:

    As I’ve noted many times, my Twitter and Facebook feeds are incredibly different. The former, consisting mostly of other national security professionals and academics, are almost uniformly consumers of traditional elite media and decidedly anti-Trump. The latter, consisting mostly of people I went to high school or served in the Army with, mostly consume Fox News, Breitbart, and other right-leaning news sources and are decidedly pro-Trump. In the latter camp, there are some who disdain Trump’s personal style and decry his lack of impulse control. But they still think he’s a far better alternative than Joe Biden, who they see as a stalking horse for an extreme leftist movement.

    James, I think your Twitter/Facebook example is really illustrative of what gives me such consternation when it comes to polarization. Based on any number of analyses of media bias (MediaBiasChart.com as one example), your Twitter contacts source their information from traditional elite media that sits somewhere in the center of ideological spectrum – or viewed generously, perhaps skewed a little left of center. (That is to say your Twitter feed certainly isn’t being informed and influenced by Occupy Democrats or Alternet.) But, your Facebook friends are getting their information from the further reaches of the right-biased media such as Breitbart.

    So, there is a polarization today not so much between the Right and the Left, but between the Right and the Center. It’s a foundational perspective that is myopically biased from the outset. It’s only in a world view with this kind of bias where a white nationalist, authoritarian like Trump could be normalized to be somewhat “establishment” (he is the titular head of the GOP) while a centrist, corporatist politician like Biden can be seen as a slave to the leftist extremes and someone like Elizabeth Warren can be characterized as a wild-eyed radical.

    I believe the US is fundamentally a centrist polity. But from where we sit today, a massive shift to the left would only get us to somewhere in the middle of the ideological spectrum of states. This tug of war between political factions in 2020 is happening on the edge of a mesa. If one side wins, we all go over the cliff to the right.

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  16. James Joyner says:

    @Scott F.:

    So, there is a polarization today not so much between the Right and the Left, but between the Right and the Center. It’s a foundational perspective that is myopically biased from the outset. It’s only in a world view with this kind of bias where a white nationalist, authoritarian like Trump could be normalized to be somewhat “establishment” (he is the titular head of the GOP) while a centrist, corporatist politician like Biden can be seen as a slave to the leftist extremes and someone like Elizabeth Warren can be characterized as a wild-eyed radical.

    I believe the US is fundamentally a centrist polity. But from where we sit today, a massive shift to the left would only get us to somewhere in the middle of the ideological spectrum of states.

    I think this is largely correct, except that I’m not even sure I’d characterize Trump and his supporters as “the Right.” While nationalism is certainly a rightist motivation, Trump is otherwise largely non-ideological, exhibiting a really weird populism and espousing policy aims that would have been considered hard left not long ago.

    But I agree with your larger point: while my natsec Twitter feed is probably to my left ideologically, they’re getting most of their news (as do I) from the likes of NYT, WaPo, and NPR moreso than The Nation, Mother Jones, and the like.

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  17. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    A 65 year old was also more than twice as likely as an 18 to 29 year old to actually vote.

    Interesting way to look at those figures: they equally demonstrate a propensity for people to grow more conservative as they age. You’re treating them as a static depiction of an electorate that will remain ideologically consistent throughout life.

    All those hippie boomers from the 60’s voting Republican now should be evidence enough that the assumption is incorrect.

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  18. charon says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    There is also a strong religious component to the demographics – over 65 are 3 times as likely to identify as white Christian as 18 to 29, according to Pew polling a few years back – the same ratio works for the subgroups – evangelical, catholic, mainline protestant. Plus each age cohort has been getting less religious over the past decade or so.

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  19. charon says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Interesting way to look at those figures: they equally demonstrate a propensity for people to grow more conservative as they age.

    A myth, not something real.

    All those hippie boomers from the 60’s voting Republican now should be evidence enough that the assumption is incorrect.

    I call BS.

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  20. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:

    I think this is largely correct, except that I’m not even sure I’d characterize Trump and his supporters as “the Right.” While nationalism is certainly a rightist motivation, Trump is otherwise largely non-ideological, exhibiting a really weird populism and espousing policy aims that would have been considered hard left not long ago.

    Trump does not have or represent an ideology beyond white supremacy. Trump is a quasi-religious messiah figure for his voters. Consider this: if suddenly Trump declared himself a Democrat, without making any other changes beyond the label, how much of his current support would he lose?

    Answer: essentially none.

    And the entire GOP Congress would follow meekly along. Because this is not about politics and certainly not about parties. The GOP is nothing but a flag of convenience for Trump. He could call himself a Libertarian, a Nazi, a Communist, he could call himself ISIS, and it would not matter to his supporters because they do not give a moist fart for the party. Give Trump credit for an insight that escapes many people: he really could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue. Or he could contribute to the deaths of 200,000 Americans. And his culties would not care one whit.

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  21. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @charon:

    You’re free, of course, to resort to “nah nah nah, can’t hear you” if that suits you, but somebody sure voted Ronald Reagan in with overwhelming numbers – twice …

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  22. Michael Reynolds says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    The Hippie Boomers were never more than a tiny minority. Don’t forget that through all but the bitter end of Vietnam, youth supported the war while the elderly opposed it. Those are the people voting for Trump.

    As @Charon points out, the whole ‘more conservative with age’ thing has been debunked.

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  23. Michael Reynolds says:

    Linky:

    For obvious reasons, the broadly liberal demographic trends in American politics have received much less attention since the 2016 election. Yet the fact remains that America is politically sorted by generations in a way it never has before. The oldest voters are the most conservative, white, and Republican, and the youngest voters the most liberal, racially diverse, and Democratic. There is absolutely no sign the dynamic is abating during the Trump years. If anything, it is accelerating.

    The most recent Pew Research Survey has more detail about the generational divide. It shows that the old saw that young people would naturally grow more conservative as they age, or that their Democratic loyalties were an idiosyncratic response to Barack Obama’s unique personal appeal, has not held. Younger voters have distinctly more liberal views than older voters.

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  24. Michael Cain says:

    @charon:

    they are predominately baby boomers and older, and their views are not shared by younguns.

    I’m old enough to have been a hippie (or at least hippie-ish; things came later to Nebraska). For my entire adult life people have said the oldsters would die off and their attitudes with them. Half a century later, it hasn’t happened. I don’t anticipate that changing. Old folks in general are afraid of all sorts of things, and are often willing to buy into radical notions if they’re couched in terms of “this will make you safe.”

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  25. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Sure. The exact same thing could be said about any generation – youth most accepting of change, while elders are most opposed to it. The problem there is that youth become elders. The cycle continually renews itself. You’re far too intelligent to actually believe that this generation, unlike any other before it, somehow represents a permanent, tidal shift in the American electorate. That’s the realm of people who send money to Nigerian princes.

    People over 65 represent 13% of the population. People over 44 represent just 39%, but somehow Trump’s numbers have remained amazingly static. This is not an age thing at basis, IMO. It’s a geographical thing. Bear in mind, just as an example, that Republicans reliably capture 35%+ of the vote in California, election after election, and the geography of where they capture it is amazingly consistent. Now, if you want to demonstrate that those areas are homogeneously old people, then have at it, but somehow I doubt that’s the case.

    This is not a divide that it going to age itself out of existence.

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  26. Scott F. says:

    @James Joyner:
    While I agree Trump isn’t ideologically consistent himself, Trump and his supporters are “the Right” as long as the Party and rightist media align with them. Until “the Right” disavows Trump, QAnon and the Alt-Right, the Trumpkins get to claim the mantle of the “the Right.” Guilt by association may not be fair, but it is how ideological affiliation works in the real world.

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  27. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    It’s just one California poll, but it’s an interesting thing. Look at the age distribution of Trump supporters.

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  28. JKB says:

    A commenter elsewhere described a neighbor, who did not post a Biden sign, but rather a Trump sign with a circle and a slash. An indication of an anti-Trump sentiment more than enthusiasm for Biden or a Democrat.

    You might think this bodes well as hate is stronger than “like,” but is it? Trump is making peace in the ME by doing something different that all the “experts” over the last 50 years did over and over expecting different results, and Trump still has a month and a half to deliver a payoff in many areas that people have thought he’s been contentious.

    Several shifts in voters might prove out this election. Looks a lot like the Democrats have become the party of wildly wealthy corporations and the multi-credentialed college grad. Republicans seem to be becoming a party for small business owners, people who work with their hands (historical working class), and is seeing increase support among African-Americans, Hispanics, even LGBQ.

    If these demographic shifts are happening, then polling and historical analysis is going to naturally be unreliable.

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  29. Michael Reynolds says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    The initial question was whether voters become more conservative with age. There is somewhere between little and no evidence of that. Of course the question is a bit silly in the sense that definitions change over time as issues change. In 1970 most liberals and all conservatives would have opposed gay marriage. Today opposition has collapsed. So the question should be whether, as people age, they remain conservative or liberal relative to the current issues. The issues change, the terms change.

    We have the elephant and the blind men here because in effect rural = older = more religious = white = uneducated. Various labels for the same people. But the thing is that none of those – rural, older, religious, white and uneducated are growth demographics. The numbers I find are 21% rural, 30% urban, and 49% suburban. ~65 million Americans are rural/small town. If that number grows it won’t be natural increase it will be migration from the suburbs and cities which will not cause those new arrivals to adopt a rural view of the world, but rather transport their more urbanized attitudes to rural areas.

    But the big demos to watch are the growing ethnic groups – non-Cuban Hispanics and Asians. Whites and blacks are declining as a percentage of the population. So if demographics are going to ‘save us’ it will be those two groups.

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  30. Michael Reynolds says:

    @JKB:

    You might think this bodes well as hate is stronger than “like,” but is it?

    The hater says without irony.

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  31. Michael Reynolds says:

    @JKB:

    Trump is making peace in the ME

    Oh? Peace between whom and who else? Peace in Yemen? Syria? Libya? Kurdistan?

    Israel and the KSA and the KSA’s mini-mes have been in bed for a long time. Trump has certainly kicked the Palestinians into the ditch, but peace? It looks a great deal more like a formalizing of the existing assumption that Israel would happily join the KSA against Iran. It’s a Sunni-Jewish-Evangelical alliance for the purpose of checking the Shi’ites, and, in the case of Evangelicals, bring on Armageddon after which they hope to watch Jews and Muslims roasting in Hell.

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  32. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    But the big demos to watch are the growing ethnic groups – non-Cuban Hispanics and Asians. Whites and blacks are declining as a percentage of the population. So if demographics are going to ‘save us’ it will be those two groups.

    With that I will agree. Your worry there should be if/when the Republicans ever decide to pivot on issues that matter to those demos, and I suspect that they eventually will, because they are both natural constituencies for Republican politics.

    In the meantime, though, whites still comprise some 61% of the population (I do not buy into this ridiculous tendency to commingle white and Hispanic / Latino for statistical purposes, someone is pretty unavoidably one or the other), so whatever adjustments the Republican Party makes in that regard to its sales pitch for its policies for the foreseeable future will be regional, not national.

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  33. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    All of which I 100% agree with – and 100% of which will be lost on the vast majority of voters who have no comprehension of or desire to learn about the minutiae of Middle Eastern politics. They’ll buy it as advertised.

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  34. charon says:

    @James Joyner:

    That’s just the Brownstein story that’s the basis of this post!

    “Just?!” There is more than just Brownstean at LGM, there is this:

    https://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2020/09/white-patriarchal-supremacy-and-the-future-of-america

    People resent being told they are stupid, and that their long-held values are silly and wrong.

    There are a huge number of people in this country, in all parts but certainly more heavily concentrated in the middle, that believe in “traditional American values.” This is set of views that has gone largely unchallenged for most of their lives, and upon which they honestly believe this country is based. The key tenet is being “normal”:

    -Christianity is normal, and so is quiet agnosticism. All the different kinds of Muslims (Muslim Muslims, Hindu Muslims, Sikh Muslims) are not normal and are maybe violent. Jews are not normal, but are smart and non-threatening, although you need to watch them. They have never actually met a Muslim or a Jew.

    -They don’t believe they are racist at all. They judge people by how they act, not how they look. If all blacks dressed and acted like the ones in the Olive Garden commercials, they would be totally fine with them. But the saggy pants and all the jewelry and bright colors and filthy rap music and whatnot – that isn’t normal. If they want to be accepted, why don’t they just act normal? They don’t know any black people, beyond maybe someone they say “hi” to at work.

    -They know some people are gay, but it isn’t normal. It’s fine if they want to do that, but they shouldn’t flaunt it in public and make everyone uncomfortable. And they shouldn’t be putting it on tv or movies like it is normal and just as good as regular relationships, because it isn’t. They know some gays, but they aren’t invited to the bbq this weekend because there are going to be kids there.

    -They think the whole trans “debate” is the silliest thing they have ever heard. What, boys are girls now, or vice versa, or whatever they want? And that’s supposed to be normal? And my daughter is going to see some weirdo’s dick waggling out in the bathroom because he feels like he is a girl? Not normal. Not fucking ok.

    Especially over the past decade or so, these people have increasingly been told that their deeply-held views are not only wrong, but make them bad people. And, being humans, their reaction isn’t to rethink their lifelong worldview and change their attitude, but rather to dig in and say “fuck you.”

    They know they are “supposed to say” that they are ok with gay marriage, and black lives matter, and all that, because if they don’t they are going to be called stupid, redneck racists by people on TV and in print media. So they have changed what they’ll say out loud, or at least to whom they will say it, but haven’t changed their beliefs. And Hillary and the Democrats are exactly the kind of people that would judge them harshly for their views, and Donald Trump and the Republicans are the kind of people who don’t. So they are voting Republican, no matter how big of a clown Trump is, because at least those people don’t piss all over my fundamental sense of self.

    Plus lots of discussion in the comments.

    ReplyReply
  35. charon says:

    @James Joyner:

    That’s just the Brownstein story that’s the basis of this post!

    “Just?” There is more than just Brownstein at LGM, there is this:

    People resent being told they are stupid, and that their long-held values are silly and wrong.

    There are a huge number of people in this country, in all parts but certainly more heavily concentrated in the middle, that believe in “traditional American values.” This is set of views that has gone largely unchallenged for most of their lives, and upon which they honestly believe this country is based. The key tenet is being “normal”:

    -Christianity is normal, and so is quiet agnosticism. All the different kinds of Muslims (Muslim Muslims, Hindu Muslims, Sikh Muslims) are not normal and are maybe violent. Jews are not normal, but are smart and non-threatening, although you need to watch them. They have never actually met a Muslim or a Jew.

    -They don’t believe they are racist at all. They judge people by how they act, not how they look. If all blacks dressed and acted like the ones in the Olive Garden commercials, they would be totally fine with them. But the saggy pants and all the jewelry and bright colors and filthy rap music and whatnot – that isn’t normal. If they want to be accepted, why don’t they just act normal? They don’t know any black people, beyond maybe someone they say “hi” to at work.

    -They know some people are gay, but it isn’t normal. It’s fine if they want to do that, but they shouldn’t flaunt it in public and make everyone uncomfortable. And they shouldn’t be putting it on tv or movies like it is normal and just as good as regular relationships, because it isn’t. They know some gays, but they aren’t invited to the bbq this weekend because there are going to be kids there.

    -They think the whole trans “debate” is the silliest thing they have ever heard. What, boys are girls now, or vice versa, or whatever they want? And that’s supposed to be normal? And my daughter is going to see some weirdo’s dick waggling out in the bathroom because he feels like he is a girl? Not normal. Not fucking ok.

    Especially over the past decade or so, these people have increasingly been told that their deeply-held views are not only wrong, but make them bad people. And, being humans, their reaction isn’t to rethink their lifelong worldview and change their attitude, but rather to dig in and say “fuck you.”

    They know they are “supposed to say” that they are ok with gay marriage, and black lives matter, and all that, because if they don’t they are going to be called stupid, redneck racists by people on TV and in print media. So they have changed what they’ll say out loud, or at least to whom they will say it, but haven’t changed their beliefs. And Hillary and the Democrats are exactly the kind of people that would judge them harshly for their views, and Donald Trump and the Republicans are the kind of people who don’t. So they are voting Republican, no matter how big of a clown Trump is, because at least those people don’t piss all over my fundamental sense of self.

    https://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2020/09/white-patriarchal-supremacy-and-the-future-of-america

    Plus comments discussion too.

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    1
  36. Scott F. says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Your worry there should be if/when the Republicans ever decide to pivot on issues that matter to those demos, and I suspect that they eventually will, because they are both natural constituencies for Republican politics.

    Unless one is a full-on Democratic partisan, I wouldn’t characterize this development as something to “worry” over. Any Republican political pivot that is going to attract meaningful numbers of non-Cuban Hispanics and Asians is going to have to drop their whole-hog xenophobic white-supremacy positions.

    That can only be a good thing for the country. As a Pragmatist first/Democrat second type, I would welcome a return to political debate centered on policy outcomes. Thwarting Evil politics is so exhausting.

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  37. charon says:

    @Scott F.:

    Any Republican political pivot that is going to attract meaningful numbers of non-Cuban Hispanics and Asians is going to have to drop their whole-hog xenophobic white-supremacy positions.

    Possibly by the 2028 cycle, maybe.

    Through 2024, the white evangelicals will stay in control of the GOP, they are too racist for that.

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  38. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Scott F.:

    As would I, but the unspoken part of that statement is the part about them becoming motivated to do so when the demographic trends have sufficiently moved to enable it to be a winning strategy for them. In other words, once whites make up less than 50% of the population.

    Maybe I’m just being a cynic there, but they are way too laser focused on winning to risk peeling off support by making such a pivot in the current environment when it’s easier for them to do so by staying the course & selling racially tinged populism.

    ReplyReply
    1
  39. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @charon:

    Trump garnered 46.1% of the vote in 2016, and his approval numbers have not materially changed since then.

    That leaves two possibilities – either 46.1% of the electorate are avowed racists, or 46.1% of the electorate doesn’t care about that issue enough to change their priorities. Neither supports this tidal swing you’re asserting will happen.

    ReplyReply
    1
  40. Mister Bluster says:

    Trump still has a month and a half to deliver a payoff in many areas that people have thought he’s been contentious.

    He’s going to replace Obamacare before Election Day even though he thought he would sign a Healthcare Bill his first day in office (very early indication that he’s incompetent) and then couldn’t do it when his Republican Party controlled both houses of Congress.
    He’s also going to get the infrastructure rebuilt after three and a half years of doing nothing.
    The only airports he’s managed to draw any attention to are the ones that the Continential Army took over during the American Revolutionary War in the 1770s. (More evidence that he is a total fool.)
    And the wall.

    ReplyReply
  41. Grewgills says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    It is white christians and really a certain type of white christian that they are primarily appealing to.
    White christians are now about 44% of the population. Coincidentally, that is very close to his general level of support +/- a few percent at any given time.

    ReplyReply
  42. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Grewgills:

    I think that’s grossly and overly simplistic. While 44% of the population identifies as White & Christian, only 13% of the population identifies as White & Evangelical, and even those numbers rely on a narrow PRRI survey which slots “white christian” as “white Protestant”. Pew, meanwhile, suggests that 70% of American whites identify as Christian, along with 79% of African-Americans. I don’t believe that religion is the predicate basis for the split.

    ReplyReply
  43. Grewgills says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    My comment was in reply to your contention

    As would I, but the unspoken part of that statement is the part about them becoming motivated to do so when the demographic trends have sufficiently moved to enable it to be a winning strategy for them. In other words, once whites make up less than 50% of the population.

    In your previous comment white is ‘grossly and overly simplistic’. It is white AND christian, at the very least, that this discussion is based on.

    ReplyReply
    1
  44. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Grewgills:

    Sure, in practice its complex, but I’d assert that the primary underlying factor – the totem that underlies all of the rest – is race. Not the least because we as a society have refused to stop using it as a stand in for culture. I’m with Freeman on this one – if you want it to stop being a problem, stop making it a problem.

    ReplyReply
  45. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @HarvardLaw92: I’m less inclined to think of the cohort representing a binary choice. Some are avowed racists and others don’t care about that issue enough to change their priorities and still others are tribal/unthinking/go along with whatever is happening. But I also don’t see a sea change coming in the culture. My generation was going to make the world a better place and change the face of the culture (or at least that was our story). We failed–spectacularly.

    ReplyReply
  46. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    A question for Dr. Joyner about the whole “Trump stickiness” issue. If, in fact, the problem for conservatism at large and the GOP in particular is Trump, what will the 2024 Republican primary look like? Who’s going to run that will look different from the pose Trump adopted (I don’t think he “believes” anything other than closing the sale)? Who are the front runners, the up and comers, the new generation in either Republican politics or conservative punditry who will go a different direction and what will that direction look like?

    I’m inclined to believe that Trump ran as what he did because he had a sense of what con the audience wanted to buy. No “stickiness” involved. Still, I’m open to being persuaded. Who is the exemplar of conservatism/Republican political policy/thought?

    ReplyReply
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  47. wr says:

    @HarvardLaw92: The people with no interest in ME politics also don’t give a damn if some country they’ve never heard of sells out the Palestinians to suck up to the Saudis, even if that means making nice with Netanyahu. Those are are shouting hosannas about this are merely looking for ways to praise Trump — which is why they inevitably talk about his “nomination” for the “Noble Prize.”

    ReplyReply
  48. Scott F. says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    Oh, I would agree with you (and @charon) that this pivot isn’t imminent, but “racially tinged populism” has a shelf life. The demographic trends are inextricable, so the options will eventually come down to pivot or die as a Party. (It’s always possible they may choose “die.”)

    ReplyReply
  49. Rick Zhang says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Very true. I would add that Why Cities Lose is a good book to read on this issue.

    ReplyReply
    1
  50. Monala says:

    @JKB: What exactly did Trump do to bring about peace in the Middle East, beyond facilitating the signing of a treaty for a few countries who had been working on normalizing relations for years? (And is it the entire ME, or just a few countries?) That’s a serious question. What is this new way of approaching things that Trump did, that made this all happen?

    ReplyReply
  51. Monala says:

    @charon: Here’s one good comment:

    Even in the bullet points explained above, there’s a fair amount of self delusion and/or refusal to actually admit what your values are. Obama was the ultimate “black in an Olive Garden commercial,” and still they were incapable of looking at him without seeing a thug and a gangster.

    ReplyReply
  52. charon says:

    Bitecofer:

    https://web.archive.org/web/20200916023711/https://www.niskanencenter.org/bitecofer-epstein-september-update/

    That said, I was bearish in March that even if the pandemic was mismanaged, even if that mismanagement did cause Americans great death and despair, and even though what had been a strong “economic fundamentals” for Donald Trump’s reelection campaign was inevitable and unavoidably now going to be an economic collapse, I opined that hyperpartisanship meant that it was unlikely these massive political stimuli would have much impact on the fundamentals of the race.

    Regrettably, that is exactly where we find ourselves heading into the fall general election. I use the word “regrettable” because the inelasticity of American public opinion is a symptom of a democracy in full-blown crisis. A healthy “body politic” does not remain unresponsive to political stimulus on an epic scale. Ours alone is the only democracy in which the public flatlined in this way.

    ReplyReply

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