Values Survey: Immigration and cultural issues lock in Trump voters
White evangelical voters are among the voters are one of the groups most loyal to Trump. | David Goldman / AP

WASHINGTON—A large share of voters for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in last year’s election are immovable, due to cultural issues in general and immigration in particular, the annual American Values Survey shows.

The survey, conducted yearly by the Pew Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution, also shows those attitudes are tied up with both race and religion.

Taken together, all that means that virtually any argument on any other issue—including the economic hurt some of those voters have suffered for a decade or more—won’t move them, speakers at Brookings said.

The survey, One Nation, Divided, Under Trump, shows an increasingly rigid polarization in the U.S. electorate. Voters now cast ballots based not on issues but on what “tribes” they belong to: Republican or Democratic, red-state or blue-state, and white—particularly white evangelical—or non-white.

As a result, the Republicans, whom the survey focused on this year, have become more homogenous, more rigid, and more dominated by the white evangelical wing that is sticking by Trump, regardless of his actual policies, and prefers him over standard GOP leaders on Capitol Hill or the party structure. And a large share of GOP voters considers any and all Democrats “a lethal threat” to the country’s future.

As for the GOP leadership, it’s “doubled down” on following Trump, the speakers said, because their voters are doing so.

Trump evokes strong emotions on both ends of the political spectrum, the survey says. While his overall approval rating is 41 percent positive-59 percent negative, less than 20 percent of all voters have strong pro-Trump views, compared to strong anti-Trump views among 42 percent. That includes 72 percent of Democrats and 49 percent of women. Overall, women dislike him by a 2-to-1 ratio.

African Americans, as a group, don’t care for Trump either. In a first, zero percent strongly support him and 60 percent strongly dislike him. By contrast, the survey says 55 percent of the white working class, South and North, go for Trump.

The correlation between GOP support overall and Trump support in particular shows up among the white evangelicals, as does the “cultural issue” impact, said PRRI President Robert Jones, who presented the survey findings. In 2017, the survey found, three-fourths of Republicans are white evangelical Protestants, compared to 29 percent of Democrats.

More than 40 percent of those white evangelical Republicans fiercely believe white Christian heritage is essential to the U.S.; that minorities—including African Americans, Latinos, and LBGTQ people—do not suffer discrimination while white Christians do. Democrats, white and black, are polar opposites in those findings.

“What this means to be a Republican under Trump is to be scared,” of the “other”: African Americans, Latinos, women who don’t know their place, and LGBTQ people, said Henry Olsen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the designated Republican on the panel.

They have factual basis for those fears of losing control of their place in an increasingly multicultural society, the survey reports. In 2008, white Christians were 54 percent of the entire country, voters and non-voters included. Now, they’re 43 percent.

Trump played, and plays, on those fears, Olsen added. That’s one reason the Muslim ban, upheld—at least temporarily—by the U.S. Supreme Court resonates with his base, Olsen said. Same thing with his plan for the wall against Mexico, even if many of the Trump supporters, once they start talking rationally, are more comfortable with legal immigration.

And they also realize the wall may not get built. But what’s more important, Olsen said, is the idea of the wall and what it symbolizes: Keeping the “other” out.

Trump captured, and holds, those voters “with a strong appeal to economic and ethnocentric nationalism,” Olsen noted. That included unfair trade as a proxy for economic ills, including those he argued immigration brought. It also fed the voters’ sense of a loss of control. That sense and ethnocentrism let Trump scoop up enough votes to carry the key Great Lakes states—Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania—whose electoral votes put him in the White House.

Panelist Joy Reid, national correspondent for MSNBC, seconded the point. She said fully half of Trump’s voters believe the GOP tax cut for the rich will not help them. But it doesn’t matter to them. Reid described one TV ad she saw during the 2016 campaign which captured the entire ethos of those voters, without mentioning Trump by name.

Running first in Ohio and then in Pennsylvania, the “Man of Steel” ad by an outside pro-Trump group ended with “We can bring America back,” she said. It was shown against a background of closed factories. The message got across, especially to white working-class voters.

Can the Democrats win those voters back in next year and 2020? Reid was pessimistic. She said they still fear the loss of control and the “others,” led by former Democratic President Barack Obama. The Trump voters viewed him not just as African-American, but as Muslim, a theme Trump played on during the campaign.

Even if Trump’s policies let them down, Reid said, those voters might react by staying home next November. It’s an intensely personal following for Trump, she noted. Meanwhile, the pro-Democratic groups—especially women and minorities—angry over Trump’s actions against them will drive high turnout this coming fall.

“The big problem the Democrats have is to figure out what to do,” by either trying to win back the Trump voters or to continue and intensify the coalition Obama assembled, she said.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners. El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People's World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).