2 March 2016

Ten explanations for why Donald Trump is popular with many GOP voters


Donald Trump is expected to do very well in today’s Super Tuesday contests. For the expert Republican-watcher, Henry Olsen, the “83% probability” (at time of posting) of Mr Trump becoming the GOP’s nominee could be the most earth-shattering event in the party’s history since Barry Goldwater won the nomination for his party in 1964. Mr Olsen goes through the likely results in today’s individual state contests here.

I listed ten possible explanations for Mr Trump’s popularity and asked the First Verdict panel from YouGovUSA to say which of the ten were “important” in explaining his rise. The full results are posted below.

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 17.05.56His straight-talking, “entertaining” style was cited as the top explanation – by 56% of panelists. This fits with the “restroom test”. During the Republican debates you don’t go for a lavatory break when Donald Trump is speaking or about to speak – you go when one of the more conventional politicians is speaking and you’re less likely to miss an important or funny moment.

Reason two is that the TV networks have given Mr Trump so much airtime. CNN has been particularly willing to break into regular programming and go live to a Trump rally for an extended period – in the hope and expectation that the billionaire frontrunner will serve up some controversy. Team Rubio’s explanation for the personal insults that the Florida Senator has been directing at Mr Trump in recent days is that they have calculated that such controversial interjections are the only way of competing with Mr Trump for attention. Frank Luntz has Tweeted that it might be working – pointing to a graph that shows a spike in Rubio coverage.

Reason three is the weakness of the other GOP candidates – 43% of First Verdicters mentioning that.

Personally I’m surprised that only 18% of the YouGov panel members thought “people want someone who will protect them during tough economic times” was an important explanation for Mr Trump’s success. I sympathise with Peggy Noonan’s analysis that the “unprotected” class is seeking a strongman to stand up for themselves against big business, China, the corporate donor class and other sources of their financial insecurity.

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 17.06.33I also asked today’s panel if they thought that the political and financial interests that were responsible for the 2007/2008 crash had been adequately punished and were exiled from positions of influence. I expected an overwhelming rejection of the idea that they had faced a full and adequate reckoning – I’m not sure I was expecting a 84% to 1% landslide “no, no, no”! This result – consistent with the recent Portrait of America finding against Wall Street – is also undoubtedly part of the Sanders/Trump phenomenon and the desire for an overturning of the establishment.

For more about Portrait of America and the methodology behind First Verdict, click here.

For the complete Portrait of America catalog, click here.

Tim Montgomerie is Editor of Portrait of America