Republican Voters – who are you?

I’ve gotten to the point where Donald Trump no longer shocks me. What was once shocking is now just depressing. What can still shock, though, is the steady stream of polling data that shows Republican voters are living in crazy town with him. Obviously, these are the people who nominated him, but we have evidence that, for some Republicans, support for Trump was “in spite of” rather than “enthusiastically for.” But now it seems increasingly the case that the people who got off on yelling “lock her up” at rallies are not the fringe — they are the majority.

photo credit: DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images/CBS New York

The latest example: Nearly two-thirds of Republicans say that “both sides” were responsible for the violence in Charlottesville and 17% say it was the counter-protesters who were primarily at fault for the violence. (SurveyMonkey, August 17, 2017) This view — advanced publicly by Donald Trump virtually alone — has been widely rejected by most Republican lawmakers. But, what’s a Republican Member of Congress to do when these are the people who vote in their primary elections? Dancing with the one who brung ya is becoming an increasingly awkward two-step for GOP elected officials.

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Who are these people? As someone who previously identified as a Republican, I keep asking myself: who are these people? Voters who identify as Republicans in surveys these days surely must be a shrunken, shriveled base or, if not that, then certainly a different group of people now make up the Republican party.

Party identification is consistent: Are fewer voters identifying as Republican in 2017? The answer appears to be: no. Gallup party identification trend data shows nothing out of the ordinary, with party identification percentages for 2016 and 2017 fluctuating within normal historical trends.

Is party composition different? So, then surely the composition of the Republican party is changed — even from what it was just a few years ago — and there is evidence that this is at least somewhat true. The party does not appear to be shedding more people than the Democratic party — about 10% overall — so that explains why party identification numbers are historically consistent. But, there is some swapping going on: Democrats are gaining younger and more educated voters, while the Republican party is replacing them with less educated and older voters. An especially interesting nugget from Pew Research is that nearly one-in-four Millennials who previously identified as Republican left the party for good between 2015 and 2017. Of course, the majority of Millennials are Democrats or lean that way to begin with, but this is the clearest evidence that there is GOP flight within key sub-groups.

The exodus of young people from the Republican party helps explain a recent finding which shows the majority of Republican voters now say colleges and universities have a negative impact on society — a sharply negative tack from even two years ago.

The movement away from Republicans among college-educated voters is something two University of Pennsylvania affiliated psychologists have examined. They found a partisan re-alignment already underway, but one that Trump accelerated:

In fact, it seems likely that Trump’s nomination was itself made possible by the long-term decline in Republican identification among those with the most education, though it also seems likely that his nomination and subsequent victory have further reinforced this decline.

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Last year, Pew published a deeper dive into party affiliation which found that white men (particularly without a college degree) have been moving into the Republican party, while younger and more educated people have been moving out.

This peek into the composition of the Republican Party was something I needed to do to help make sense of views that are increasingly unrecognizable to me. There is a re-alignment underway and I am part of it.