It’s Trump’s Party: Support for Trump vs. support for the Republican Party
There is some speculation as to whether the role of racism in electing Donald Trump is now a permanent fixture of the Republican Party, or if Trump and his racist rhetoric are momentary flukes of a party capable of surviving his Presidency. Many pundits have suggested that the Republican Party still retains some anti-Trump base and that the policy agenda is still largely driven by the House. At the same time, Trump’s most ardent critics either lost primaries or retired (such as Jeff Flake). The Republicans most apathetic toward Trump (such as Love and Curbelo) were knocked out of swing districts. So who controls the GOP? To investigate this question, we asked Republican respondents in our What The Hell Happened survey to evaluate whether, overall, they were more supportive of Donald Trump or the Republican Party. Specifically, respondents were asked, “Do you consider yourself more a supporter of President Donald Trump or a supporter of the Republican Party?”
Among the 1,355 Republicans in our survey asked the question, fully 61 percent said they were a “Trump supporter, strongly” vs. just 9 percent who said they were a “Republican Party supporter, strongly,” with 16 percent favoring Trump “somewhat” and 12 percent favoring the Republican Party “somewhat.” In this post, we explore who preferred the Republican Party in our survey were compared to those who prefer Trump. The survey, as part of the What the Hell Happened? Project fielded between October 27 and November 7, capturing voters’ attitudes right through the election.
By age breakdown, our results present a mixed picture of the future for the Republican Party. On the one hand, the next generation of Republican voters are less likely to say they support Donald Trump more than the Republican Party than those of other generations. On the other hand, the margins do not bode well for the Republican Party overall. Thirty percent of millennials prefer the GOP over Trump “somewhat” or “strongly,” while 65 percent prefer Trump “somewhat” or “strongly.” By comparison, 81 percent of Silent Generation respondents and 80 percent of Baby Boomer respondents reported supporting Donald Trump over the GOP. Following the Pew Research Center’s coding of generations, respondents were coded into groups by age as follows: 18-37 (Millennials), 38-53 (Generation X), 54-72 (Baby Boomers), 72 and older (Silent).
More work is needed to fully explore the meaning of this result. For context, it is not atypical for partisans to view an in-party President more favorably than their party. There is little public data on respondents who are required to choose one or the other, but considering individual legislators are generally more popular than parties up and down the ticket, we currently lack the longitudinal context necessary to rule whether Trump is atypically preferable to his home party compared to other Presidents.
Notably, Republicans who reported they preferred “Donald Trump, strongly” or “the Republican Party, strongly” were equally likely to vote for the Republican House candidate in 2018. Most 2018 House defections among Republicans apparently came from respondents who reported preferring “the Republican Party, somewhat.” Ninety-eight percent of respondents who preferred “Donald Trump, strongly” voted for a Republican candidate in 2018, as did 95 percent of those who preferred “the Republican Party, strongly,” 92 percent of those who preferred “Donald Trump, somewhat” but just 77 percent of those who preferred “the Republican Party, somewhat.” The following figure breaks down 2018 House vote choice for Republicans by their preference for Trump vs. the Republican Party.
Demographics: Who are the people who prefer GOP to Trump?
While to some, preferring the GOP over Trump and preferring Trump over the GOP represent divergent worldviews, we find few direct demographic differences between the two groups besides age. Each group has similar levels of income, and have similarly low levels of racial diversity. Republicans who report preferring the GOP are significantly more likely to hold college degrees in our sample. Both groups are roughly as religious, and are only marginally different in the share of each group that lives in urban areas.
Consistent with some previous work on the role of Populism in Trump’s 2016 success, we find that respondents who said they preferred Trump over the Republican Party scored slightly higher on a common measure of Populism. Also perhaps unsurprisingly, Republicans who preferred Trump over the GOP scored higher on a scale of racial resentment than did Republicans who preferred the GOP, while we did not see any significant differences on a scale of Social Dominance Orientation. A separate analysis suggests that pro-Trump Republicans had slightly warming feelings towards whites.
Consistent with some previous work on the role of Populism in Trump’s 2016 success, we find that respondents who said they preferred Trump over the Republican Party scored slightly higher on a common measure of Populism. Also perhaps unsurprisingly, Republicans who preferred Trump over the GOP scored higher on a scale of racial resentment than did Republicans who preferred the GOP, while we did not see any significant differences on a scale of Social Dominance Orientation.
The Republican Party is Trump’s Party now, though the next generation of Republicans are the most skeptical of Trump’s hold on the Party. The #NeverTrump movement makes up an increasingly small portion of Republican voters. These Republicans do have slightly less racial resentment and are less populist, but they are still far more racially resentful than Democrats.
John L. Ray (@johnlray) is Senior Political Analyst at YouGov Blue.
Sean McElwee (@SeanMcElwee) is a co-founder of Data for Progress.
As part of our What The Hell Happened Project, Data for Progress commissioned a survey of 3,215 voters from YouGov Blue that was fielded October 27th through November 7th, which was weighted to be nationally representative of 2018 voters.