Why It’s So Hard for Democrats to Pick Off Trump Supporters

Fo­cus groups can be self-ful­filling Rorschach tests, with prac­ti­tion­ers cherry-pick­ing the parts that fit their pre­con­ceived nar­rat­ive. But it’s non­ethe­less use­ful to pay close at­ten­tion to Demo­crat­ic poll­ster Stan­ley Green­berg’s find­ings from a group of Ma­comb County, Michigan sup­port­ers of Pres­id­ent Trump, all in­de­pend­ents and Demo­crats. The fine print of these swing voters’ re­ac­tions is as sig­ni­fic­ant as Green­berg’s con­clu­sion that Demo­crats can win back some Trump voters by pivot­ing left­ward on eco­nom­ic is­sues.

The full re­port should be read by any Demo­crat in­ter­ested in for­ging a path back to power with Trump in of­fice. For all the anti-Trump sen­ti­ment cours­ing through the coun­try, many will find Green­berg’s find­ings sober­ing. Yes, Demo­crats could win a small slice of Trump voters by ad­opt­ing a more eco­nom­ic­ally pop­u­list mes­sage geared to­wards the Mid­west­ern states. But the cul­tur­al dis­con­nect between Trump’s voters and the op­pos­i­tion is so wide that it’s hard to see Demo­crats mak­ing com­prom­ises with this siz­able, dis­af­fected con­stitu­ency.

Green­berg has ex­tens­ive ex­per­i­ence in Ma­comb County, where he con­duc­ted a series of sem­in­al stud­ies of Re­agan Demo­crats in the 1980s. Barack Obama com­fort­ably won the county twice—by a 4-point mar­gin in 2012—lead­ing Green­berg to con­clude that the county’s leg­acy as a work­ing-class bell­weth­er was out­dated. But its leg­acy re­turned with a ven­geance last year, giv­ing Trump a whop­ping 12-point vic­tory, and provid­ing him his mar­gin of vic­tory in a tra­di­tion­ally Demo­crat­ic state.

Here are some of Green­berg’s most con­sequen­tial find­ings:

Trump’s base is ex­traordin­ar­ily loy­al. Not a single one of the 35 Trump voters sur­veyed said they had any re­grets about their vote for Trump, des­pite the swirl of con­tro­ver­sies con­sum­ing the White House. They agreed that Trump “gives them hope” when he speaks. “They ac­cept Trump’s ver­sion of the news and facts, and their re­ac­tions to videos of his press con­fer­ences and in­ter­views re­in­forced that point,” Green­berg writes. Trump’s au­then­ti­city—the idea that he is “blunt,” “out­spoken,” and “not afraid to speak out”—is a huge selling point to his base. They view Re­pub­lic­an con­gres­sion­al lead­ers as shifty and ca­ter­ing to the wealthy, but view Trump’s motives as heart­felt.

This loy­alty has con­sequences for the GOP’s le­gis­lat­ive agenda: TheWash­ing­ton Post fea­tured a front-page story this week about a Ten­ness­ee wo­man who be­lieved Trump, with some di­vine in­ter­fer­ence, helped her af­ford health in­sur­ance thanks to a gen­er­ous sub­sidy. The real­ity was that the sub­sidy was a part of Pres­id­ent Obama’s ori­gin­al law, and would likely be rolled back as a res­ult of Re­pub­lic­an re­forms.
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