By Ben Geier and Tory Newmyer
August 13, 2016

Saturday Morning Post: The Weekly View from Washington

The widely accepted notion that an army of the economically dispossessed forms the core of Donald Trump’s support may be more myth than fact. That’s the conclusion of a massive new study by Gallup that analyzed 87,000 interviews the polling organization conducted over the last year. It found that Trump supporters aren’t suffering more acutely than the rest of the population from the effects of trade or immigration. Nor are they likelier to earn less or to be out of work. And even among white Republicans, Trump doesn’t perform better in those communities that have seen manufacturing jobs disappear over the last quarter-century.

Polling indicates Trump’s strongest backing comes from less-educated white men typically in blue collar jobs. Beyond that profile, the study raises more questions than it answers about what factors are most likely to predict support for the GOP nominee. But some gossamer threads emerge: Trump does notably well in areas with low economic mobility and in areas where whites live in isolation. The trends make some sense. Those who see dimmer prospects for their children may be more willing to take a chance on an unconventional candidate. And white Republicans who live closer to the Mexican border or surrounded by more Hispanics are relatively anti-Trump, suggesting those who have no personal contact with Hispanic immigrants are less likely to be put off by Trump’s hardline approach and charged rhetoric on immigration.

Yet it seems there are limits to what can be understood through dicing the electorate by income, employment, race, age, and zip code. An alternate Unifying Theory of Trump’s Support, based on a December poll with a much smaller sample, found that an inclination toward authoritarian leaders was the most powerful indicator. This is, after all, arguably less a contest of ideas than any presidential campaign in modern times. Instead, it’s a dual referendum on two galvanizing personalities. And rather than turn that fact to his advantage by keeping the focus on his opponent — or change the dynamic altogether by running on detailed economic solutions — Trump has acted like a tuning fork, homing in on a strongman pitch that sings to a small and shrinking share of voters. Needless to say, it isn’t working.

Tory Newmyer
@torynewmyer
tory_newmyer@fortune.com

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