Very soon, Donald Trump will leave the U.S. presidency, one way or another. But his supporters will remain a powerful force in the electorate for years to come. They might seek to reinstall a resurgent Trump in 2024, though impeachment proceedings now underway could forestall that option. Lacking Trump, they will likely seek post-Trump candidates who embody many of his signature qualities, including authoritarianism, populist nationalism and disdain for traditional norms of American governance.
Who are Trump’s voters?
To a large extent, they are Republicans, though a growing minority of Republicans do not identify as Trumpists. They include a substantial number of previously disenfranchised, deeply conservative, largely rural voters who, until Trump, did not feel embraced or appreciated by either political party. Trump rallied these voters to his “outsider” cause. Like them, he claimed to despise the privileged DC establishment, and he promised to “drain the swamp.” Though this often-repeated phrase turned out to have no consistent or functional meaning, it sounded great to his aggrieved base.
How aggrieved? Enough, apparently, that tens of thousands were emboldened to storm the U.S. capital on January 6 in riots that could be construed as a precursor to civil war. People involved in those demonstrations have publicly promised to go further on January 16–17 and after, with potential attacks on government buildings in all 50 states. At this writing, no one seems to know what might happen on January 20, the day of President-elect Biden’s inauguration, but some 20,000 National Guard troops are said to be patrolling the nation’s capital in anticipation of further disruptions.
Generalized grievance, it seems, is a defining characteristic of many who identify with Trump, and that sense of grievance will certainly not be assuaged by the next administration, even if Joe Biden actually tries to build bridges across the political divide as he says he will. Biden, in the view of many Trump voters, is the very embodiment of DC establishment swamp creature that Trump promised to vanquish. Any Biden overture to these Trump voters will likely fall on deaf ears.
But aggrieved, disenfranchised right-wing voter doesn’t fully describe the particular features of Trump’s base. Who, then, are these people? Where do they live? What do they want?
According to Pew Research, Trump voters say that their primary concerns include personal freedom, religious freedom, traditional patriotism, law and order, preventing illegal immigration, free enterprise, and resisting what they view as creeping socialism. Nothing too surprising here.
Trump voters understandably seem to resent being characterized as uneducated, white-only, or old. Of course, not all Trump voters match those descriptors (for example, at least 30% of voters aged 18 to 29 voted for Trump), but survey analysis shows that the stereotypes often fit. The following data comes from surveys conducted just before or since the November election by Pew Research Center, the Council on Foreign Relations and other sources.
What states voted primarily for Trump?
Trump won the entire South, except for Georgia (which he lost by only 0.2%), and most of the heartland, excluding Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois. He also won Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Alaska. He lost Arizona by only 0.3%. In all, Trump won 25 states, including a majority of the split vote in Nebraska.
What age-groups voted for Trump?
While younger voters strongly supported Biden, older voters tended to support Trump. In pre-election surveys:
• ages 18–29 split 67–30 for Biden
• ages 30–49 split 59–39 for Biden
• ages 50–64 split 51–48 for Trump
• ages 65+ split 52–46 for Trump
Voter gender made a big difference:
• men (all ethnicities combined) split 50–48 for Biden, a statistical dead heat
• women (all ethnicities) split 56–42 for Biden, accounting for most of Biden’s margin of victory
How did Black Americans vote?
• Black voters overwhelmingly support Biden, 89% to 8% for Trump
How did Hispanic Americans vote?
• Almost 2/3 of Hispanics (63%) support Biden, vs 35% for Trump
How did Asian Americans vote?
• fully 2/3 of Asian American voters support Biden, splitting 67–31%
How did non-Hispanic white Americans vote?
• they split 54–45 for Trump — the only ethnic segment that Trump won
How did education level figure in voter preference?
• voters with a postgraduate (Masters or higher) degree split 68–31 for Biden
• voters with a Bachelors degree split 61–38 for Biden
• voters with some college education split 50–48 for Biden
• voters with High School diploma or less split 53–45 for Trump
The foregoing data paints a clear picture: Trump voters are more likely to be white, older and less educated than voters who chose Biden in the 2020 election. They are also more likely to live in the South and Midwestern states.
That said, Trump voters represent a formidable force in the American electorate. The Trumpian grievances associated with perceived disenfranchisement and cultural marginalization are, if anything, reinforced by Trump’s electoral loss and subsequent inflammatory activities. Now that he has been impeach by the House — the only U.S. president in history to be impeached twice — his grievance narrative is further amplified.
Trump may now be positioning himself as a post-presidential martyr and figurehead of the downtrodden “deplorable” class. (The Clinton slur seems to have gained a kind of reverse cachet, becoming almost a badge of honor among those targeted by the label.) If anything, Trump’s popularity is likely to persist, not diminish; and those who love him most are well armed and not inclined to passivity. How he might choose to exploit his eager army of followers remains to be seen.