Competing for the Evolving American Electorate

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Competing for the Evolving American Electorate

The sharp move from Barack Obama to Donald Trump caught many so-called experts by surprise.  Some attributed this apparent sea-change to sabotage, while others believed it was “irrationality.”  However, a closer look at the data shows that the surprise was due to pundit’s own faulty assumptions.  It is in fact those assumptions, which need to be reexamined. 

To address this challenge, a “research collaboration” of nearly two dozen analysts and scholars was assembled from across the political spectrum.  The so-called Democracy Fund Voter Study Group was tasked with examining and delivering insights on the evolving views of American voters.  To that end, the group sought to engage in a discussion about how the views of the electorate are evolving and what the implications of those changes may be.

This research led to seven key findings based on the detailed 2016 data:

  • The primary conflict between the two parties involves questions of national identity, that is ethnicity, race, religion and morality.  Meanwhile the traditional conflict over economics, though still important, is less divisive now than it used to be. This appears to be reshaping party coalitions.  —People largely chose Obama based on identity issues and the same was true for Trump.
  • By making questions of national identity more salient, Donald Trump succeeded in winning over socially conservative and economically liberal “populist” voters who had previously voted for Democrats.
  • Among populists who had voted for Obama, Hillary Clinton performed poorly.  She held onto only 59 percent of these voters.  Trump picked up 27 percent of them, and the remaining 14 percent didn’t vote for either major party candidate.
  • To the extent that the Democratic Party is divided, these divisions are more about faith in the political system and “general disaffection” than they are about issue positions. That is, Bernie Sanders voters and Hillary Clinton voters possessed few policy differences.
  • By contrast, Republican voters are more clearly split.  For the most part, Donal Trump and Ted Cruz supporters appear fairly similar, although Cruz supporters are
  •  considerably more conservative on moral issues,
  •  notably less concerned about inequality and the social safety net, and
  • more pro-free trade. 

Meanwhile, John Kasich supporters represent the true moderates, caught in between the two parties on almost every issue, both economic and social.

  • In both parties, the “donor class” is more conservative on economic issues and more liberal on social issues, as compared to the rest of the party...

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