Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. Photo from Gage Skidmore.
By Janelle Clausen
Donald Trump, whether you like him or not, has been persistently high in polls across the Republican field. The only people to come truly close to him were other political outsiders like Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina.
Many people are still baffled as to why. Experts and journalists thought Trump couldn’t possibly last. Did belittling John McCain’s POW status ruin him? No. Did his insults against fellow candidates, time and time again, end it? No. Even his blatantly false remarks on people in Jersey City cheering on 9/11 haven’t doomed him yet.
An answer can be found in 1964, when a young political scientist named Philip Converse published “The nature of belief systems in mass publics” and changed the way we looked at ideology and political behavior in America.
His findings were simple, yet ground-breaking. The public could be divided into five groups: the ideologues, near-ideologues, group-interest, nature-of-the-times and no issue content people. Most people had little to no consistency with their views.
While the study had some issues, like the less extreme differences between parties back then and how questions were asked, nobody’s completely debunked the results. In fact, many have built upon this research.
The ideologues and near ideologues referred to people who thought on a liberal-conservative spectrum. They answered open ended questions on a way consistent with what’s society considers liberal and conservative ideals.
Liberals, for example, would favor more government involvement and emphasis on social programs, while conservatives would like a smaller government and stronger military.
When Converse surveyed these people, they were a minority barely totaling a double digit percentage. Today, they still are a minority, although the situation’s improved with increased education and access to information.
Those in the group-based category make their decisions based off of group affiliation. They might vote Democrat because they relate most to them. They could vote for a local politician because he stands with labor groups, or because he’ll protect the rights of gun owners. Or, as has been shown with Donald Trump, people might like someone because he is against a group that they are against, such as Muslims or illegal immigrants.
People in the “nature of the times” group base their decisions based off of how things are going at the time. If things are going great, they’ll vote for the incumbent. If the economy is bad, the world looks like it’ll fall apart or the political system is a mess, they will vote for the other guy in hopes of fixing it. Donald Trump is the other guy.
Finally are the “no issue content” people. These are the people completely uninterested in politics, falling along no spectrum. They show little consistency on coherence on how they feel about issues.
Instead, they’ll turn to the candidate who’s the most likable or seemingly relatable. They’ll remember the way they smile or the jokes they crack. While I question how likable Donald Trump is to the vast majority of Americans, his “honesty” and direct humor have certainly scored some points.
Like the people Donald Trump appeals to, his views jump around too. On one hand, Donald Trump has some liberal views. He favors a progressive tax, doesn’t want to cut medicare or social security and used to be pro-single payer healthcare, gun control and higher taxes. On the other hand, he emphasizes the military and has taken strong anti-immigrant stances.
Can Donald Trump’s appeal last? I doubt that he could win a general election for two reasons: more experienced candidates can employ appeals to these groups, and I have more faith in the electorate than Converse did. People are more informed today than ever.
But, looking at it this way, it’s easy to see why he’s hung on so long.
Disclaimer: This is a blog post in which an opinion is established. We encourage our readers to reach their own conclusions based on reading several articles that support and refute an opinion. The opinions established in this article do not represent the beliefs or ideals held by the Stony Brook Independent.