Trump voters are Romney voters

At CT and just about everywhere else, there’s been lots of discussion about who is voting for Trump and why. This began during the Republican primaries, when it made sense to ask “what kind of Republican would prefer Trump to Bush, Cruz etc?”.

This kind of discussion continued through the general election, even though the answer is now staring us in the face. Trump is getting overwhelming support from self-described Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, and almost none from Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents. The same was true for Romney four years ago, and for McCain and Bush before him.

This is well known, but few people seem to have drawn the obvious conclusion*. With marginal changes (I’ll discuss these below), the people who are voting for Trump now voted for Romney four years ago, and for Bush before that.

This makes nonsense of much of the discussion of Trump voters as the dispossessed, protesting against globalisation, predatory capitalism and the destruction of American manufacturing. Conversely, it turns out that the discussion of Romney’s “dog whistle” appeals to racism was misconceived. Replacing the dog whistle with a bullhorn has turned out to be no problem for the great majority of those who voted for Romney.

What matters to Romney/Trump voters is what Romney and Trump have in common. Trivially, they have both been nominated by the Republican party and their supporters are Republican partisans. But that’s a bit like saying that opium makes you sleepy because of its dormitive quality. People are Republican partisans because they agree with the core elements of the Republican position: white Christianist identity politics, opposition to (non-white) immigration, and anti-poor, anti-union economic and social policies. What Trump has done is to show that some things previously thought to be core Republican commitments (free trade, for example) are actually peripheral.

Of course, the overlap is not 100 per cent. The (small) group of Republicans who aren’t voting for Trump is different from the (also small) group who didn’t vote for Romney: the never-Trumpers are mostly women and college graduates, while the anti-Romney Repubs presumably included some stereotypical Trump voters (with the qualification that they identified as Republicans well before Trump came along).

In addition, it’s necessary to take account of demographic changes, newly registered voters, differences in turnout and switches in party affiliation. Demographic changes have mostly favored the Democrats. Trump has claimed to be driving new registrations, but I’ve seem no evidence of this. Republicans have had a net benefit from switchers, but that’s mostly a continuation/completion of the long migration of Southern white nationlists away from the Democratic party.

Overall, though, the problem is simple. If you want to explain Trump’s support base, you need to start from the fact that he shares it with Romney and Bush.

* Corey here at CT and elsewhere has probably been the most consistent exponent of the view that Trump is a traditional Republican, in the line of Goldwater and Reagan. I broadly agree, though I’d put more stress on new developments over the past 20 years or so. Trump’s complete disregard for truth, norms of decency and so on, is an extrapolation of a process that’s been going on for quite a while, at the popular level with Fox News, birtherism and so on and in the Republican intellectual apparatus with climate denial, zombie economics and attacks on “political correctness”.

89 thoughts on “Trump voters are Romney voters

  1. Krugman’s comment

    So we are very probably looking at a global recession, with no end in sight. I suppose we could get lucky somehow. But on economics, as on everything else, a terrible thing has just happened.

    I hope, as he has got everything else wrong – he’ll get this wrong as well.

  2. Trump got more votes than Romney so your thesis cannot literally be correct.
    But really too upset to be bothered with this.

  3. @may

    And I thought that was some obscure reference to “the ninth lord in the eleventh house” or something. 🙂

    I think astrology is nonsense, of course, but I was willing to have a laugh at some tongue in cheek millenarian or fin de siècle prediction. Mind you, none of this is a laughing matter.

  4. More broadly, this Trumpalist development of a new US Trumpire is all of a piece with the USA’s trajectory since Reagan. A “B” movie actor became President then and now a B “Reality” TV presenter becomes President. This trajectory has about reached its nadir. History repeats itself, “first as tragedy, then as farce,” as Karl Marx wrote.

    The Republicans now control just about everything in US politics. Republicans now control the House and the Senate and will have the Presidency in the new year. They control most state governorships too with 31 Republican controlled legislatures, 11 Democrat-controlled legislatures
    and 11 split legislatures.

    I’ve been warning that neoliberalism and capitalism are not done with us yet. The worst is still to come. Maybe a few people will start to see this “Cold Fact” (as Sixto Rodriguez would call it).

  5. MSM credibility, such as remained of it, is the loser. Good.

    Of all the polling regularly collated at “RealClearPolitics”, only the ‘LATimes’ consistently had Trump ahead by a few points. All the others were wrong to varying degrees.

    War (especially nuclear) is suddenly looking less likely.

    The “establishment” (especially the ‘left’ half of it) has taken a blow.

    Sanders would have won in a landslide, but of course he had to be destroyed by the Democratic Party machine because he was “unelectable”. Oh dear.

    The real left needs to get back control of its political arm worldwide, or abandon it as worse than useless.

  6. To put it simply:

    An elderly woman told American’s she’d govern for all of them.

    An elderly man told American’s he’d govern for the biggest single group, the whites.

    The whites voted for the old man.

    Totally not what I expected, but there you go.

  7. Coming back to the OP, now that the results are in it seems that those at the pointy end of globalisation, predatory capitalism and the decline of American manufacturing did turn out to vote for Trump and were instrumental in Trump’s upset win. But the OP is not actually wrong, to the extent that it was based on a reading of the polls and the polls apparently didn’t see this coming. Of course, as Julie has pointed out, Trump doesn’t really have a solution to the rust-belt protest voters’ problems. To some extent I think D is right and that the mainstream American left has lost touch with a large section of its voters. Whether or not Sanders would have won it will never be known, but in hindsight it appears that his pitch might have appealed to those rust-belt voters who flipped for Trump more than Hillary’s. So it goes.

  8. It’s all bad news for Americans. Trump’s only word that I heard is “were going to have an infrastructure boom (led recovery)”. Infrastructure these days doesn’t involve tens of thousands of people with shovels and barrows as it did for Roosevelt, it involves a hand full of guys on expensive machines pushing around hugely expensive material.

    So remembering that the “we have to pay our way and get rid of the deficit” Republicans now have absolute power, you can expect every social welfare program to vaporise, and on top of that Trump will demolish what ever is left to have the hundreds of billions of dollars to build his infra structures.

    I think most of the women of the US are now eligible to wear dunces hats for the next four years. What a wasted opportunity blown over what? how someone handles their emails???

  9. I think most of the women of the US are now eligible to wear dunces hats for the next four years.

    Pretty much exemplifies the sentiment that ensured Trump’s win.

  10. What did they expect of Assange, given their treatment of him.

    He knows he is going down on a frightened and vindictive trumped-up smear campaign and perversion of legal principles and his last act is to to bring the creeps who brought him down with him.

    That’s what happens when you rob a person even of hope.

  11. “Overall, though, the problem is simple. If you want to explain Trump’s support base, you need to start from the fact that he shares it with Romney and Bush.”

    Apparently, political science models that focus on fundamental factors such as the state of the economy and length of time a party has spent in office predicted a Republican win or a tight race.

    Maybe the fact that it was Clinton and Trump didn’t matter at all.

    It’s quite terrifying to think that swing voters will vote for anybody simply because they think it’s time for a change.

  12. Reading through the comments there seems to still be a lot of identity politics going on (did someone mention old and white?) and a large dose of the ‘too stupid’ meme, in pointing out the obvious that a vote for Trump did not correlate with self-interest.

    I would surmise that there were two forms of disruptive vote going on, one voting for Trump because he was not the establishment choice, and the other not voting for Clinton, because she was the establishment choice.

    The sense that the trajectory of the nation is wrong is not limited to the US, and I would think it is only a matter of time before these trends become apparent in Australia. In that sense, the unpopularity of Shorten is not a temporary blip.

  13. In confirmation of JQ’s main point in the OP, Trump actually got fewer votes than Romney in 2012, with a larger electorate. He won because Clinton got far fewer votes than Obama. The popular idea that Trump charmed am army of racist hillbillies out of the woodwork where they’d been hiding out in past elections does not explain the result. He turned out the Republicans, Clinton failed to turn out the Democrats.

    Was it likeability? Age? Perceived frailty? Lack of physical charisma? To much experience? Simply gender? I’m afraid the Democrats have to find a young, inexperienced and physically attractive candidate for 2020. Yes, in a woman this means sexy. Kamala Harris might do.

    You do need a separate explanation for the massive and systematic failure of the polls, which led to that of the aggregators. Large numbers of Trump voters hung up on pollsters, or lied to them. Apparently – I’d like to see this confirmed – the error extended to the more expensive internal polls of both campaigns. Trump was not expecting to win.

  14. On the subject of the polls:

    When the 2015 UK general election produced a result that deviated widely from the pre-election polls, the British Polling Council and the Market Research Society commissioned a thorough independent inquiry into how the pollsters might have got it wrong. The full report is easily available online. Several possiblities were investigated, including what they call in the UK the ‘shy Tory’ effect, that some people are too embarrassed or ashamed to admit to pollsters how they are intending to vote; the researchers found that the evidence did not support that conclusion. Of course it’s possible that something has happened in the UK that did not happen in the US, that there were substantial numbers of voters who decided to vote for Trump and weren’t prepared to admit it to pollsters, but it’s only one possibility and not the first one to consider.

  15. Unfortunately this is how Hitler and other right wing nationalists get started

    “Make Germany Great Again”

    “Make the rest of the World Pay”

    etc etc.

  16. Well I am going to be hopeful that:

    “As this capitalist system destroys itself, we can step aside and find healing by living honestly and without fear. They don’t get to tell us how to live. We can share our pain with family and friends. We can post it on social media. Shout it from the rooftops if we feel like it. The pain we feel is capitalism dying. It hurts us because we are still in it.”

    from an article by joe brewer “the mental disease of late stage capitalism”.

  17. This is very different to 1934.
    To even suggest a likening between Trump & the parties of 1934 can be said only by someone utterly without understanding of what Fascism is.
    That an individual’s education is so deficient can perhaps be blamed upon the public education system, which has many strong points – but is utterly deficient at teaching any understanding of modern history.

  18. @Charlene MacDonald

    Try providing some basis. You appear to be confusing 1934 with what happened and developed later.

    O yeah, I am aware there were plenty of differences but the political angst and victimisation was in the same mould.

  19. So, what happened in 1934?

    Among other things, 1934 was the year that a law was passed transferring all or nearly all of the powers of the German states to the national government; and the year in which the SS and the Gestapo murdered at least eighty-five political opponents of the government on the so-called ‘Night Of The Long Knives’.

  20. @J-D

    Don’t get too excited playing your games.

    The actual year is not important. No one is saying Trump will murder or gas opponents. Trump tried the Hitlerite “poll monitors” and is threatening what will surely be a show trial of Hillary.

    Hitler too wanted to “Drain the Swamp”

    The equivalency is at a different level.

  21. Yep.


    Having the internet does not preclude the Trumpites holding the houses of Congress. From this issues forth appointments to the Supreme Court. The hope of the break on the conservative hold on the Supreme Court came with the death of Antonin Scalia, the hope was that a Clinton government would redress the ideological imbalance there, as J-D appears to recognise.

    Instead we will witnesses silliness of a magnitude and intensity that would make Abbott’s PM-ship seem rational by comparison.

  22. But whatever Trump or the Repubs do, it won’t make the people who voted for them happy.

    He will fail to improve their lives except for the brief flashes of satisfaction some of them feel when other people they don’t like suffer because of something they instigated like if he makes abortion illegal. The lovely Charlene aka Phillipa would be happy with that bit of fascism but the people who voted hoping for a better and more prosperous world will be very disappointed with the solutions he offers when they don’t work.

  23. @Ivor

    Don’t get too excited playing your games.

    If you’re only prepared to posit an equivalency at the level of sloganeering, your claim has no factual content.

    ‘No one is saying Trump will murder or gas opponents’, you write. I’m sure they aren’t. But what are you saying Trump will do, in concrete terms, not in vague abstractions?

  24. Julie, JD.. this is the whole thing, it is unchartered territory. We know the killing is offshored, eg the mid east, is there a chance in a nation that has woken up to the power of high level weaponry and the idea of militias really constrains minorities more severely in future than at present. I remember Margaret Attwood did a dystopic novel called “Handmaids Tale”involving an emerging theocracy in a collapsing, dumbed down society.

  25. A plutocrat with inherited wealth speaks for the under-employed and unemployed men, the women who bounced off of the glass ceiling, the undeclared immigrants? Strange days are these.

    Actually, it is a salutary statement that if the left side of politics wants to be relevant, they need to do some serious thinking about how to assist the sinking class. Platitudes no longer suffice, if indeed they ever did.

  26. ..if the left side of politics wants to be relevant, they need to do some serious thinking about how to assist the sinking class..

    What a novel idea!

    Again, here we have President Trump precisely because the “left” side of politics has no idea what that even means. And because “they” have been able to count – until recently – on a very large slice of the electorate to vote for them no matter what they do.

    “Lesser-Evilism” will keep going and giving these results until enough of the “left” say: No!

  27. A few weeks ago Michael Moore put out a nauseating film called ‘Trumpland’ which got massive MSM exposure and consisted of a 70 minute monologue of him telling the universe how excellent Hillary Clinton really is.

    Today he has the gall to tell the world (on facebook):

    Morning After To-Do List:

    1. Take over the Democratic Party and return it to the people. They have failed us miserably.

    2. Fire all pundits, predictors, pollsters and anyone else in the media who had a narrative they wouldn’t let go of and refused to listen to or acknowledge what was really going on. Those same bloviators will now tell us we must “heal the divide” and “come together.” They will pull more hooey like that out of their ass in the days to come. Turn them off.

    3. Any Democratic member of Congress who didn’t wake up this morning ready to fight, resist and obstruct in the way Republicans did against President Obama every day for eight full years must step out of the way and let those of us who know the score lead the way in stopping the meanness and the madness that’s about to begin.

    4. Everyone must stop saying they are “stunned” and “shocked”. What you mean to say is that you were in a bubble and weren’t paying attention to your fellow Americans and their despair. YEARS of being neglected by both parties, the anger and the need for revenge against the system only grew. Along came a TV star they liked whose plan was to destroy both parties and tell them all “You’re fired!” Trump’s victory is no surprise. He was never a joke. Treating him as one only strengthened him. He is both a creature and a creation of the media and the media will never own that.

    5. You must say this sentence to everyone you meet today: “HILLARY CLINTON WON THE POPULAR VOTE!” The MAJORITY of our fellow Americans preferred Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. Period. Fact. If you woke up this morning thinking you live in an effed-up country, you don’t. The majority of your fellow Americans wanted Hillary, not Trump. The only reason he’s president is because of an arcane, insane 18th-century idea called the Electoral College. Until we change that, we’ll continue to have presidents we didn’t elect and didn’t want. You live in a country where a majority of its citizens have said they believe there’s climate change, they believe women should be paid the same as men, they want a debt-free college education, they don’t want us invading countries, they want a raise in the minimum wage and they want a single-payer true universal health care system. None of that has changed. We live in a country where the majority agree with the “liberal” position. We just lack the liberal leadership to make that happen (see: #1 above).

    Let’s try to get this all done by noon today.
    — Michael Moore

    The idea seems to be keeping the pitch-forks pointing in the right direction by telling ‘stupid’ people that they are too stupid to work out where their anger should be directed.

  28. ‘Sinking class’? I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean.

    What I do know is that a majority of voters with annual incomes below $50,000 voted Democrat; that if voters with annual incomes below $50,000 had decided the election, they would have given it to Clinton; that Trump owes his victory to voters with annual incomes above $50,000.

  29. Fire all pundits, predictors, pollsters and anyone else in the media who had a narrative they wouldn’t let go of

    Some might suggest Michael Moore falls into this category.

  30. @paul walter

    I do like Margaret Attwood – the best one was Cats Eye, I think that is the title, in which she describes how cruel and bullying girls can be to one who is different – resonated strongly with me but I couldn’t take the Handmaids Tale seriously.

    And I’m really sure that the people I live among are not dumb – they have been dumbed down and psychologically twisted to admire all the things that are bad for them and for a decent society.

    But they are working it out. I can see the changes happening before my eyes. They are listening to their children who have the internet and they are working things out about the rich and the idea that these people deserve their wealth and we poor people should be ashamed of ourselves for being leaners and for being envious.

    Listen to “The Money” on RN this morning and hear evidence that people are changing their opinion of the rich being deserving of their wealth. This is also going to create less stupidity in my neighbours who are not stupid at all, but they are ignorant and have been forced to believe in things like meritocracy, that have made them stupid.

    Perhaps it is living in a food growing area where I know and like my rwnj neighbours that is the reason I can see that we can and will change our society for the better. The reaction when I say not to worry because this is just end stage capitalism and Marx predicted that true socialism will follow, is speechlessness and not anger at the very idea of Marx. Maybe they think I mean Groucho?

  31. I’ve deleted this. Everyone please be more civil. I haven’t got time to check the entire thread, so I don’t care who started it, and will ban anyone who complains about my ruling or continues with insulting langauge – JQ

  32. My view is that there is sometimes a sanctimonious and hypocritical element to the modern left, which has made enemies of people who should have been friends. For example, I know people who (i) happily use the phrase ‘white trash’, and (ii) throw accusations of racism around like confetti.

    I am not saying that we should do less to combat racism, sexism, homophobia etc. But I do think that our efforts have often had a very unpleasant and counterproductive tone. So much so that it is easy to think that for some, being holier-than-thou is the real goal and advocacy is merely a façade (to be clear I am not talking about this blog or anybody on it).

    Of course most lefties are not like this at all, in the same way that most Trumpkins are not hateful bigots. But like racist Trumpkins, there are enough of these people, and their voices are often the loudest, such that we are easily misunderstood.

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