Donald Trump taps into deep Republican anger at government

24 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

5 reasons the 2016 GOP primary is a perfect storm for Donald Trump.

White Christians now make up less than half of the U.S. population, largely receding from the majorities of most demographic groups, with one notable exception: the Republican Party.

Only 19 percent of Americans — about 1 in 5 — say they trust the government “always or most of the time,” according to a study released by the Pew Research Center on Monday.In the run-up to a presidential election in which a vociferous businessman-turned-reality-TV-star and a retired neurosurgeon with some unconventional theories have risen to the top of the polls for a major party, even the American people are beginning to question their own political sense.The anecdotal story of the 2016 Republican nomination contest is that an electorate frustrated with the party establishment is conferring its blessing on candidates with either a complete lack of establishment credentials or ones who’ve been explicit in denouncing the party. Yet clear majorities also favor the government taking “a major role” in fighting terrorism, responding to natural disasters, keeping food and drugs safe, protecting the environment, strengthening the economy and improving education. Furthermore, the survey found Americans view elected officials as dishonest and selfish compared to “typical Americans,” and 74 percent said elected officials act in their personal interest rather than in the country’s interest.

The survey, based on over 6,000 interviews conducted between Aug. 27 and Oct. 4, finds that public attitude towards the government is far more ambiguous than the narrative of the political “year of the outsider” – the theory that a growing dissatisfaction with the political establishment has propelled outsiders like Donald Trump and Ben Carson to the lead in the 2016 presidential campaign – would suggest. According to the data presented, in 2007, 88 percent of white Republicans and 70 percent of white Democrats identified as Christian, an 18-point disparity.

During the 2013 government shutdown the number of Republicans who indicated they were “angry” at the government crept up to 38 percent, the highest number for any party in decades. Not only is confidence in Americans’ political choices waning—hardly a surprise in a climate plagued with partisan squabbling—a majority suspects that the US and its leadership are perhaps in over their heads when it comes to the nation’s pressing problems. Those include “addressing issues ranging from terrorism and disaster response to education and the environment.” Eighty percent of “Republicans and Republican-leaning independents” said they wanted a smaller government with fewer services, compared to 31 percent of Democrats. Trust in government appears to have been higher half a century ago, at a time when the Cold War may have had more of a rallying effect on public opinion — along with the space program and high employment and general prosperity.

In some ways, it seems, 2016 is a near-perfect blend of a number of long-standing trends among Republican voters that have led to an early primary process that strongly disadvantages the establishment. And while partisan divides remain over the scale of what government involvement should be, both Republicans and Democrats surveyed said the government should have some role in all the issues posed in the survey. Despite all the skepticism, most Americans still trust one another more than those in office, highlighting the sharp disconnect between lawmakers and those they serve.

Confidence in government has clearly suffered over the ensuing decades, with Vietnam, Watergate, energy crises, various economic troubles, partisan gridlock in Washington and the recent frustrations in Iraq and Afghanistan. About 55% of the Pew survey respondents said ordinary Americans could do a better job of solving the country’s problems than elected officials can. The trust level generally trended downward after the mid-1960s in the National Election Study, and in polls by Gallup, the New York Times and other news organizations, descending below 30 percent for the first time in the late 1970s. Only 20 percent of those surveyed say the federal government runs its programs well, and 59 percent say the government needs “very major reform,” an increase of 22 percentage points since 1997. This has been amply documented in public opinion research at least since Lloyd Free and Hadley Cantril’s classic 1967 book “The Political Beliefs of Americans.” They describe a public that is “ideologically conservative” but “operationally liberal” — a fact confirmed in recent research by Christopher Ellis and James Stimson.

Ron Brownstein has suggested that Dems are increasingly shaping their agenda around the priorities of an emerging coalition that prizes activist government, and less so around the preoccupations of culturally conservative white voters who are suspicious of government activism and are drifting into the GOP, thus deepening the partisan divide over government’s proper role. They survey polled respondents on 13 issues – including disaster response, terrorism, ensuring access to health care, maintaining infrastructure, and advancing the economy – and in 10 of the 13 areas public opinion was more positive than negative.

In his new book, America Ascendant, veteran Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg reports that polling and focus group sessions show an intense aversion among Republican base voters, particularly Tea Partyers and evangelicals, to government programs that, they think, constitute dependence-creating handouts to specific voter groups that will in turn reward Democrats with voting loyalty. Meanwhile, this polling also dovetails to some degree with what we’re seeing in red states such as Kentucky, which just elected a GOP governor even though many of the state’s residents are benefiting substantially from Obamacare. Alec MacGillis recently published a remarkable piece of reporting suggesting that in Kentucky and other formerly Democratic areas trending Republican, many beneficiaries of Obamacare simply aren’t voting. Eighty-one percent of conservatives think that they’re losing, versus 44 percent of liberals — the only group among which a plurality thinks that they’re winning. This perhaps helps explain why the counties that are benefiting most from Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion backed incoming GOP governor Matt Bevin, who may be gearing up to cut it.

It could also be partly because social insurance for the elderly is seen as a program that is there for everyone, since everyone will get old one day (unless of course premature death intervenes), whereas government health care and aid to the poor benefit specific groups. Predictably, more Republicans are angry with the government than Democrats (32 percent and 12 percent, respectively), but Republicans have had a historically low level of trust in the government during Barack Obama’s presidency. This core difference — rather than a simplistic government-is-either-good-or-bad frame — helps illuminate a fair amount of the ideological conflict that has marked the Obama era.

Amongst the American right, 81 percent of conservative Republicans and 75 percent of moderate and liberal Republicans say their side loses more often than it wins. Here are more findings from the survey: Spending limits: Big majorities in both parties said they favored some kind of spending limits in U.S. elections. Among those who called themselves conservative Republicans or Republican leaners, 68 percent supported the idea of limiting how much individuals and organizations can spend. There’s an operating theory of the Trump dominance, nicely articulated by 538, that it’s driven in part by the fact that the Republicans most engaged in the primary process right now are also the most politically active.

Natural disasters: Government got its best marks in the latest Pew data for its performance on natural disasters, and setting fair and safe standards in workplaces. In 1996, a fifth of Republicans viewed government as the “enemy.” In 2015, more than a third do — while the number among Democrats remained the same. But just 39 percent have a favorable opinion of the scandal-plagued Department of Veterans Affairs, which had almost a 70 percent positive rating in 2013. A similar majority said the entertainment industry has a negative impact, and almost two-thirds, 65 percent, said the same thing about the national news media. Rubio’s campaign has hoped to be able to straddle the line between establishment and outsider acceptability, which it seems as though he’s managing so far.

The Pew data suggests that this is about an ideal moment for a candidate who can articulate a case to the Republican base that they oppose government and, even better, were never a part of it.

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