A Lot of Trumpers Aren’t Actually MAGA. They Matter Most.

Voters who are out of step with their respective parties could play a decisive role in November.

First Published6 Jun 2024
A Lot of Trumpers Aren't Actually MAGA. They Matter Most.
A Lot of Trumpers Aren’t Actually MAGA. They Matter Most.

A new Pew Research Center poll on American cultural values portrays lots of predictable divisions between the two main camps of US politics — as well as some curious anomalies. The large online survey of 8,709 adults, including 7,166 registered voters, examines the competing political values of the Biden and Trump coalitions, which underlie their competing policy attitudes.

The poll, conducted April 8–14, is essentially a snapshot of the culture war, displaying enormous gaps between the supporters of former President Donald Trump and those of President Joe Biden on issues including race and sexuality. I’ll get to some of that in a moment. But the survey also reveals a sizable cohort of Trump supporters — anywhere from roughly one-fifth to one-third, depending on the issue — that seems at home in 21st-century America, harboring few of MAGA’s abiding cultural resentments. Given how comprehensively those resentments define Trump and his movement, this minority is a compelling bunch.

Perhaps most striking is the MAGA minority’s views of immigrants. Trump’s aggression toward migrants — his administration separated thousands of migrant children, some perhaps permanently, from their parents, and he has personally mused about shooting border crossers – is part political, part pathological. But it’s surely the most salient of his racial appeals to the MAGA base.

Yet in the Pew poll, one-third of Trump supporters agree that undocumented immigrants living in the US should be allowed to stay and apply for US citizenship or legal residency. That’s a long way from Trump’s charge that immigrants are “ poisoning the blood of our country.” What gives?

“There has long been a minority within the Republican Party that wants a rational solution to our immigration dilemma and reasonable policies to fix what's obviously a broken system,” Republican pollster Whit Ayres said. “Their problem is that in a choice between Trump versus Biden, they find Biden more distasteful for a host of reasons, and so back themselves into supporting Trump.”

Negative partisanship is potent. “Intense dislike of the opposing party makes it an unacceptable alternative even when your views are out of line with those of your own party,” Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz said.

It’s also possible that these Republicans, like anti-immigrant or anti-gay Democrats, are members of a party that no longer suits their views, presaging their gradual transition to the opposing party. “Remember the Southern Democrat?” said Republican consultant Mike Madrid. “They voted for Republicans for 25 years before realizing they weren’t Democrats anymore.”

Harvard University political scientist Pippa Norris, however, pointed out that even in a highly polarized climate, voters aren’t always attuned to partisan cues.“ Voters are complex and often low attention, not least so far out from the November poll,” she said.

Vanderbilt University political scientist John Sides noted that voters “don't always align their views of political issues with their support for the ‘right’ candidate.” For example, in their study of the 2016 election, Sides and his colleagues found many White Obama voters in 2012 had conservative racial attitudes.

Confused, low-information, or misinformed voters are not an insignificant part of the national landscape. Polls of battleground states this spring found 17% of voters blamed Biden for the demise of Roe v. Wade, which was achieved by Supreme Court justices appointed by Trump.

But Trump’s message on immigration is hard to miss, and his party’s pro-immigrant faction is shrinking fast. “As recently as 2020, fewer than half of GOP voters said undocumented immigrants should not be allowed to stay in the country legally; today that has grown to 66% of Republican voters,” Pew director of political research Carroll Doherty said.

Across a range of issues rival coalitions of voters display something more profound than confusion. Despite residing in the same nation, with the same history, Biden and Trump voters utterly lack a shared understanding of its reality.

For example, the two parties have nearly inverse opinions on a baseline question about race, with 73% of Trump supporters saying that the legacy of slavery has little or no impact on the position of Black people in the contemporary US, while 79% of Biden supporters say the opposite — that slavery’s legacy continues to affect the position of Black Americans. There is a 58-point gap between Biden supporters and Trump supporters on the question of whether “White people benefit from advantages in society that Black people do not have.”

Similarly, there is a chasm between beliefs about guns, with 76% of Biden supporters saying that guns reduce overall safety and 86% of Trump supporters reaching the opposite conclusion — that gun ownership increases safety “by allowing law-abiding citizens to protect themselves.” That belief is a triumph of faith over both experience and data in a nation in which 100,000 people are shot annually, and the prevalence of guns correlates to the prevalence of gun violence.

Fully one-quarter of Trump supporters believe that women’s gains in US society “have come at the expense of men.” When the MAGA base pines for the 1950s, in part, they are conveying dissatisfaction with the empowerment of women, Black, LGBTQ, and other Americans, all of whom have obtained levels of civic legitimacy and now demand levels of civic respect that were denied them decades ago. When Trump publicly mocked a disabled reporter in 2015, it wasn’t just another skeevy personal attack: It was a burst of nostalgia for the good old days when a schoolyard bully could harass and humiliate someone whose difference marked them for lower status.

Democrats, by contrast, generally feel less threatened by the elevated status that such groups have achieved and recruit members of those groups — Black people, feminists, recent immigrants — into the Democratic coalition.

Much political discourse over the next five months will target hardened partisans of each camp. However, voters who are out of step with their respective parties could play a decisive role. Given the relatively small number of truly independent voters and the vast and antagonistic gap between the party bases, such voters aren’t just among the last persuadable voters in the nation. They are perhaps the only route to a majority.

Elsewhere in Bloomberg Opinion:

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Francis Wilkinson is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering US politics and policy. Previously, he was executive editor for the Week and a writer for Rolling Stone.


This article was generated from an automated news agency feed without modifications to text.

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