In the wake of the presidential election and storming of the US Capital by a mob of Trump supporters, stories are flooding the media about the surprise many faced when learning that some of their neighbors are Trump acolytes. While upsetting to many, the truth is that Trump was right for the most part in his statements about how strong his support ran across the nation. While Trump received a little over 74 million votes and lost by 5 million votes to President Biden, it would be both foolish and dangerous to treat 2020 as an absolute repudiation of Trump. Thanks to data from the new Los Angeles Times/Reality Check Insights poll, we have a better sense of Trump support, and his base was not just in rural, white America. It was also in cities and among non-whites, groups that were widely believed to be locks for the Biden. The views, values, and attitudes of these Americans should not be ignored, or else we risk continuing socio-political fracture and unstable governing coalitions.
This new data makes it clear that our nation’s cities nor its
small towns and rural regions are not politically monolithic. While just 14
percent of those in living in big cities voted for Trump, that figure climbs
for every other spatial conurbation. Roughly a third of residents in small
cities along with suburbs of big cities and small cities report voting for
Trump, as did 47 percent of residents in rural areas and 46 percent in small
towns. Moreover, rural areas were more participatory than big cities, with just
16 percent of rural respondents opting to stay home on Election Day, compared
to 27 percent of big city dwellers (and 13 percent of their suburban
counterparts). Overall, while cities are categorically more supportive of Biden,
in suburbs of small cities, for instance, the numbers of Trump voters are
within a handful of points of Biden voters (36 percent to 42 percent). This
should not be dismissed as an insignificant number.
Support for Trump was strong among those who are more formally
educated, despite the common rhetoric that they could not possibly support
Trump. Americans with high school diplomas split: About a third opted to not
vote, a third voted for Biden (33 percent), and another third Trump (35 percent).
College graduates look different: only 5 percent sat out the election, 36
percent voted for Trump, and 55 percent chose for Joe Biden. Even here, Biden’s
support is not above the 60 percent landslide threshold.
The idea that non-Whites support Democrats instead of a racist
Republican Party did not work out entirely. For Blacks, 71 percent voted for
Biden and only 3 percent for Trump. But only 53 percent of Asian-Americans voted
for Biden, with another third checking the box for Trump instead. Whites were
split fairly evenly; about 40 percent voted for Trump and Biden respectively. As
for those who identify as Hispanic, a quarter still supported and voted for
Trump. Just 42 percent of Hispanic identifiers cast ballots for Biden — a
plurality, but not an overwhelming majority whatsoever. Aside from Blacks,
there was not universal support for Biden among non-Whites.
Finally, it is often assumed that younger generations of Americans are overwhelmingly liberal, but that was not apparent in the reported vote data. Silents and Boomers spilt roughly half and half for Trump and Biden and a third of Gen Xers cast ballots for Trump, compared to 46 percent for Biden. Millennials and Gen Zers voted for Biden over Trump a bit more than 2 to 1. Surprisingly, almost a quarter (22 percent) of Millennials voted for Trump, which shows that his support was more widespread and deep than many may have realized.
The 2020 exit polls were fraught with measurement issues and thus were hard to trust. With the new data, we now have a better sense of who voted for Trump. His appeal extended well beyond rural, older white America; Younger, suburban, and Hispanic groups supported Trump as well.
As the Biden presidency begins to take shape and preaches
unity, it would be wise to recall that unity may never happen and there are
real disagreements in policy, values, and practice. However, compromise and
conflict management over real disagreement is critical to moving the nation
forward, and Biden and his team would be well served to try to be inclusive and
work with those who supported Trump.
Sadly, in the few short weeks since taking office, President Biden has already issued scores of progressive, fairly controversial executive orders and bypassed Congress and the legislative process, undermining Biden’s calls for unity. Let us hope Biden chooses to reembrace these calls in practice rather than mere rhetoric, or this cycle of tenuous majority rule and regular government gridlock and dysfunction will continue.