Trump's Core Supporters: Who Were They and Who Are They Now?

Today my random musing focuses on the president, Donald Trump, and the voters who elected him. How did an inexperienced outsider with no military or government experience become president? Are his supporters getting what they voted for?

I begin by examining what motivated Trump supporters to elect him. Trump's approval rating has declined from 46% to 39% in the first 6 months of his presidency. Who has dropped off the Trump train and who remains? And why?

Why Was Trump Elected?

Just before the election, USA Today interviewed dozens of representative Trump enthusiasts from across the nation and within every socioeconomic class. I studied the reasons for their support and selected the three most prevalent themes. I will later look at the opinions of the remaining Trump supporters by comparison.

By far the most prevalent reason for supporting Trump was anger and mistrust directed at Hillary Clinton. She was viewed by Trump supporters as dishonest, unconcerned with anyone outside the political elite, and excessively concerned with political correctness in her public communications. "Crooked" Hillary provided an easy target following the Benghazi scandal." Trump publicly announced, "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing." In the end, many supporters cast a vote for Trump as a vote against Hillary.

Right behind, and related to the first reason, was Trump's willingness to say whatever was on his mind without regard for being politically correct. Trump was viewed as outspoken, willing to speak (tweet) directly to his constituents bypassing the traditional communications media, and unabashedly condemning the traditional political establishments. Many supporters seemed to accept Trump's contradictory and inconsistent statements as a clever means to win each battle -- the end justified the means. Indeed, this enhanced Trump's image as a fighter unwilling to lose. Trump once said:" I was beat up in business and in my personal life. But you learn that you're either the toughest, meanest piece of shit in the world or you just crawl into a corner and put your finger in your mouth and say 'I want to go home'..." Most supporters liked this attitude which contrasted sharply with the attitude of the liberal elite.

Finally, Trump supporters liked his promise to tip trade agreements and job growth back towards favoring America. The mechanism for fulfilling these promises included enforcing strict immigration laws, rewriting international trade agreements, providing tax incentives to create American jobs, and confronting China and other countries with demands to end unfair practices. Trump's business experience was often cited by supporters as equipping him to succeed. In business, Trump thrived on and took opportunistic advantage of, chaos and unpredictability. Any criticism or perceived disloyalty by friends or foes was met with threats of expensive legal challenges or other means of financial ruin. In general, Trump's perceived business acumen was expected to be an asset to help make America great again.

There were of course other positions that appealed to Trump's supporters (reforming health care, reducing regulations, etc.) but the three I selected were most prevalent.

Are Trump's Supporters Satisfied With Their Choice?

First, most of the anti-Hillary contingent has hardened their support for Trump. Hillary is still blamed for perpetuating the Russian "witch hunt" as an excuse for losing. In addition, Trump instinctively reinforces this contingent; for example, he referenced Hillary negatively in 17 of his last 19 speeches, further hardening his core support by bashing Hillary. Problems that persist under Trump's watch are quickly attributed to the prior administration and Hillary. 

Many of Trump's supporters cringe at his undisciplined tweets. Nevertheless, they accept them as necessary ammunition to fight back at what they believe are liberal and hostile broadcast media attacks. Tweets make supporters feel more directly connected to Trump. Being politically incorrect "trumps" more consistent and traditional presidential communications. In general, his supporters like his aggressive public persona and admire his ability to disregard criticisms cast by the liberal Democrats.

Trump's business acumen remains a solid part of his reputation among supporters. Trump is fond of gloating over economic achievements. He points out that the stock market is doing well, unemployment is declining and is low by historical standards, wasteful spending is declining, and jobs are slowly coming back. Trump supporters view contrary arguments and suggestions that the improved economy is "spillover" from Obama's policies as fake news perpetuated by resentful Democrats and a predominantly hostile media.

Did Trump's Supporters Get What They Expected?

In general, however, Trump's remaining supporters appear to have no regrets.  Trump has lost support in some demographic segments however for reasons cited below.
  • Military: two significant factors in this segment are Trump's proposed closure of more military bases, and the Russia/Trump investigation.
  • White voters without college degrees: some members of this subgroup see Trump as untruthful, dishonest, and incompetent.
  • Blue-collar workers: This group is upset at Trump's broken promises regarding the border fence, the travel ban, and the power Trump has given to his family.
  • Independents and Republicans: Many people in this diverse group are growing frustrated with Trump's tweets and inconsistent statements (read -- "lies"). Republicans in Congress are expressing frustration at Trump's unpredictability, bullying, and disregard for the many procedures and institutions that ensure the integrity of our political system.
To date, it appears that the remaining Trump supporters with the exception of the GOP members of Congress and state governors are down to "hard rock", a hardcore base that is unaffected by almost anything Trump says or does. Further decline of support in this group would likely require a major event such as indisputable evidence that Trump has: much deeper nefarious Russian connections; insurmountable legal entanglements;  significant evidence of dementia; or public policies (e.g., health care, taxes, etc.) that significantly threaten the financial security of the remaining supporters.