Wednesday, January 10, 2018

"People love me. . . . Everybody loves me"

I've had several posts questioning the claim Donald Trump had a strong connection to the public (this one, for example).  But what if we focus on less educated people (often miscalled the "working class"), who did vote for him in large numbers?  A Pew survey in October 2016 asked if Donald Trump would be a great, good, average, poor, or terrible president if elected, and asked the same question about Hillary Clinton.  The averages by education (some college or less vs. degree or more), with great=5....terrible=1.

                              No degree       degree
Trump                        2.49              2.09
Clinton                       2.56              3.03

There was little difference among people without a college degree, but Clinton rated a little higher.  She was much higher among people with a college degree.

The same question had also been asked in a survey from April 2011, which asked about some people who were being mentioned as possible candidates for the Republican nomination.  That group happened to include Donald Trump.

                              No degree       degree

Trump                         2.56            2.10
Romney                      3.08            3.04
Palin                           2.51            2.10
Huckabee                   3.20            2.80
Ron Paul                    2.82            2.61
Gingrich                    2.68            2.46
Bachmann                 2.66            2.38

            Despite everything that happened between April 2011 and October 2016, the average assessment of Donald Trump among both educational groups was almost the same at the two times.  All of the potential Republican candidates got higher ratings from less educated people--the difference was small for Romney, but large for Trump and several others.\


\In December 2007, the same question was asked about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

                             No degree       degree

Obama                       3.27            3.44
Clinton                       3.14            3.08

Clinton's rating among college graduates was about the same in 2007 and 2016, but her rating among people without a college degree dropped substantially.  What happened?  My first thought is that the accumulation of scandals or quasi-scandals might have had more impact on less educated voters, who might pay more attention to personality than ideology.  I also have the impression that her association with Bill Clinton's administration, a period of declining unemployment and even wage growth, counted for more in 2008 than in 2016, partly because it was more recent then and partly because her time as Secretary of State intervened. 

But the overall point is that Trump's success in 2016 was more about the weakness of the opposition than about any positive appeal.  Of course, he had a lot enthusiastic supporters--in a country of 320 million, even a small minority can be a lot of people.  But the public as a whole, and even the less educated part of the public as a whole, were not that enthusiastic.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Thursday, January 4, 2018

What have reformicons learned?

Ross Douthat has a column called "What has Mitt Romney learned?"  The idea is that Romney's opposition to Trump is praiseworthy, but that he had helped to pave the way for Trump by running as a traditional pro-business conservative in 2012 and making no effort to offer anything to the working class.  It all seemed reasonable until this passage near the end "there is a small caucus in the Republican Party for a different way, for a conservatism that seeks to cure itself of Romney Disease by becoming genuinely pro-worker . . . It basically consists of Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of (ahem) Utah, plus perhaps Arkansas’s Tom Cotton and a few other figures ..."

Rubio ran for the Republican nomination in 2015-6.  He got lots of media coverage and seemed to be well financed, but didn't get many votes.  Those that he got weren't mainly from the working class, but from "establishment Republicans."  That is, when working class voters were offered a choice between the leading "pro-worker conservative" and Donald Trump, they unhesitatingly went for Donald Trump.  I don't find this hard to understand--if you read the elite media, you knew that Rubio was supposed to be a reform conservative, but in the debates he was just one more guy talking about how conservative he was and how Hillary Clinton would do irreversible harm to the America we knew and loved.  

What would a pro-worker conservatism be like?  Douthat links to a piece by Pete Spiliakos, which says that the problem with the recent tax bill is that its benefits are skewed towards high earners, with too little going to the middle and working classes--in other words, exactly what Democrats are saying.  A reasonable short definition of the difference between left and right on economic issues is that the left is in favor of using the power of the state to help people with low and moderate incomes at the expense of people with high incomes, and that the right opposes that.  So a pro-worker conservatism would have to involve some move to the left, because being pro-worker is a basic principle of the left.  Of course, it could involve more than that--for example, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit but cutting back on the minimum wage, or reducing occupational licensing--but it can't avoid it entirely.  

However, as I have observed before, both politicians and intellectuals in the Republican party seem to be consumed by the desire to prove how conservative they are, and how strongly they oppose progressivism and all of its works.  With politicians, this means that if someone compromises, he or she is vulnerable to being pushed out by someone who promises to take an even harder line.  With intellectuals, it means that even those who want reform assume that any reform has to come from the right and therefore convince themselves that people like Rubio, Lee, and Cotton might be the answer.  The result is that both establishment and reform conservatism are ineffectual.