May 2017, Robin Quirke
The election of Donald Trump to the position of 45th president of the United Sates was a big surprise to many Americans. Considering the often misinformed contents of his campaign speeches, his lack of political experience, and his shaky work history, many were left wondering who would vote this person. News stories painted a picture of the blue-collared white man, out of work and desperate, hoping Trump would bring back their jobs. But exit polls reveal that the average incomes of Trump voters are actually higher than Clinton voters, therefore not as desperate as one might think. Digging deeper than the media’s rendition of the Trump voter, what is it that makes nearly half of the voting population support someone so erratic?
Most Trump-supporters are politically conservative, and political conservatism has been associated with higher levels of authoritarianism, disgust, fear of death, ethnocentrism, intolerance of ambiguity, and need for closure (Jost, et al., 2003), which might be seen as negative or undesirable traits, but are actually theorized to be useful tools for survival during times of scarce resources (Kessler & Cohrs, 2008). Trump spoke often of doom and gloom regarding the state of affairs in the U.S. and the world, so it might make sense how that talk would resonate with people who see the outside world as a place of scarcity.
We surveyed 513 American voters (198 Trump voters, 209 Clinton voters), comparing those who voted for Trump to those who voted for Clinton to see if those who voted for Trump rate higher on authoritarianism, disgust, fear of death, ethnocentrism, intolerance of ambiguity, and need for closure. Key findings, methodology, and full data below.
1. Ethnocentrism: Trump-voters more ethnocentric
One undeniable difference between those we surveyed was that Trump voters were much more ethnocentric than Clinton voters. When asked how much they agree with the four statements directly below, Trump voters consistently showed higher levels of ethnocentrism.
(1) “Although extremists can distort any religion, the Muslim faith is just as good as the Christian faith.” Among the two groups in this sample, 26.3% of Trump voters agreed, while 81.3% of Clinton voters agreed (bar chart here).
(2) “The people from Mexico who have recently come to the U.S. have mainly brought problems and trouble with them.” For this statement, 59.6% of Trump voters agreed with this, while only 11.0% of Clinton voters agreed (bar chart here).
(3) “It’s sad that many minorities in our country are broadly discriminated against and treated unfairly.” For this statement, 53.5% of Trump voters agree with this, while 89.0% of Clinton voters agree (bar chart).
(4) “Foreigners coming into our country often take jobs away from citizens and/or end up taking welfare benefits,” Lastly, 69.7% of Trump voters agree with this, while 18.2% of Clinton voters agree (bar chart).
2. Fear: Trump-voters are more scared of foreign terrorists
There was not much difference in the level of fear between Trump voters and Clinton voters for covering personal or family healthcare costs, losing their job, losing their home, death, minority groups becoming the majority, not being able to defend their family or affording personal retirement. But Trump voters did express more fear than Clinton voters when asked how often they have felt fear of “Muslim immigrants coming into the U.S.” Conversely, Trump voters reported having less fear than Clinton voters over climate change.
Additionally, when participants were asked: “Based on the number of deaths each year in the U.S., what do you guess are the approximate odds that a person will die in their lifetime from each the causes below (for example, there is a 1 in 7 chance a person will die of heart disease in their lifetime)?” There were no noteworthy differences in how Trump voters and Clinton voters assessed influenza/pneumonia, motor vehicle incident, or accidental gunshot. But when asked about the likelihood of dying from an immigrant or refugee terrorist act, Trump voters estimated it to be more likely than did Clinton voters.
3. Trump-voters are more authoritarian
Compared to those who voted for Clinton, the people who voted for Trump reported higher levels of authoritarian values on all eight questions we asked. For example, when asked how much they agree with the statement “Households tend to run the smoothest if the father guides the family in most decisions,” 47.5% of Trump voters agree, while 15.8% of Clinton voters agree. With the statement “We need to dramatically reduce the inequalities between rich and poor, whites and people of color, and men and women,” 10.6% of Trump voters strongly agree and 66.0% of Clinton voters strongly agree.
4. Trump-voters a bit more disgusted
In this sample, those who voted for Trump found the statements “You see someone put ketchup on vanilla ice cream, and eat it” and “While you are walking through an alley, you smell urine” a bit more disgusting than did the people who voted for Clinton. Additionally, people who voted for Trump found the statement “If I think something is disgusting, there’s no changing my feelings about it” more like them than did the Clinton voters.
5. Trump-voters more conservative
Those who voted for Trump in this sample showed more social conservatism compared to those who voted for Clinton. When asked how much they agree or disagree if certain social constructs should be supported in American society, Trump voters showed higher support for patriotism, Biblical truth, and the death penalty than the Clinton voters. In contrast, the Trump voters showed less support than the Clinton voters for the Theory of Evolution, a working mother (for pay), same-sex marriage, legalization of marijuana, legalized abortion, socialism, easy divorce, and mixed-race marriage.
For this sample, Trump-voters did show higher levels of authoritarianism, disgust, and ethnocentrism, but there was no evidence that fear of death, intolerance of ambiguity, or need for closure were stronger among Trump voters compared to Clinton voters.
Methodology & Transparency
Surveys were collected via opt-in online survey among a nonprobability sample of Americans from the general public (513 participants, with 198 having voted for Trump and 209 having voted for Clinton in the 2016 election), all survey workers from Mechanical Turk (MTurk).
This study was sponsored, conducted, and funded by PolicyInteractive. MTurk respondents were paid a token of $.40 each. The reported data is not weighted. These surveys were administered during the month of May in 2017, and only in English. Demographic details, complete surveys and full results at links below.
*MTurk workers tend to be younger, more formally educated, more White, and more liberal than the general public, which is of course important to keep in mind while reading over the results.
Full results and survey here