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Study: No One Issue Clearly Unites 5 Groups Of Trump Voters


There are lingering questions about what motivated voters on both sides of the ideological divide in the 2016 election. A new trove of polling data from the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group has some answers which might challenge conventional wisdom. What's key about the study is that it goes all the way back to 2011. A group of 20 analysts from across the ideological spectrum have drawn some conclusions about the findings. One of them is Emily Ekins, a researcher at the libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute. She used the data to focus on Trump voters. She found they could be divided into five distinct groups.

EMILY EKINS: These different groups of voters disagree about virtually every policy issue that we surveyed on, including issues central to the campaign like immigration, matters of race and American identity, the size and scope of government, trade - all of these issues. And this is surprising because a lot of kind of the common media narrative has treated the Trump voter as though it's kind of one type of person that's motivated primarily for one reason. And then this data suggests that, in fact, it's a coalition of different types of voters that voted for him for different reasons.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So give us an example of some of those reasons.

EKINS: Of course. So one of the groups we found I think fits most closely with the media narrative. The label they were given were American preservationists. And they might surprise you because, in some ways, they don't seem like typical Republicans. They actually think we should raise taxes on wealthy households. They're very concerned about Medicare, strongly support the social safety net. But at the same time, they're very, very skeptical about immigration both illegal and legal immigration and strongly support the temporary travel ban on Muslim immigration. But what I found is that they comprise about 20 percent of the Trump coalition, not 100 or even 50.

Within the same coalition, I found another group that in many ways are just polar opposites of these. We labeled them the free marketeers. They make up about 25 percent of the coalition and on all - almost all of these issues I've mentioned, they don't want to raise taxes on the wealthy. They're very skeptical of the social safety net. And they have very favorable attitudes towards immigrants and racial minorities similar to Democrats, in fact, in these warm feelings. They told us that their vote was actually a vote against Hillary Clinton rather than for Trump. But that first group I mentioned, the preservationists, they were his core supporters that got him through the primaries. For them, he was the reason they voted for him.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is there anything that unites all five groups - one single thread or issue that they all agree on?

EKINS: So we looked for that. And it's honestly very difficult to find one. The closest thing would be antipathy towards Hillary Clinton. But that's no surprise. That's what happens in these elections. People tend to vilify the other candidate. The other thing that came the closest would be support for the temporary travel ban on Muslim immigration. But even still, two of the five groups really strongly supported it while another two of the five groups only weakly supported it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: When we look ahead, is this a coalition that could hold? If you look at what has happened in the past - you followed these people from 2011 - is this a coalition that could still unite around President Trump looking forward? Or is this a coalition that is fragile?

EKINS: It's hard to say. I think this election has taught us that predictions are difficult. I think it is fragile. One reason I say that is one of the groups - one of the five groups we identified, the label we gave them was anti-elites. You know, they're very distrustful of elites as their name describes. About 50 percent of them had positive attitudes of Hillary Clinton in 2012 - half of them. You think, well, what on earth happened? The only evidence we have is that they really were - they lost confidence in Hillary Clinton. And also on immigration, while they tend to be very moderate, they're perhaps not quite as liberal as Hillary Clinton's and the Democratic Party's platform was. So I think that they could be gettable by the Democratic Party, but time will tell.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Emily Ekins is a research fellow at the Cato Institute. Her latest report titled "The Five Types Of Trump Voters" was done in collaboration with the Voter Study Group. Emily, thank you so much for joining us.

EKINS: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.