Justin Gest, Politico, August 16, 2016
Over the past 14 months Donald Trump has upended much of what we thought we knew about American politics. He won the Republican nomination easily with no prior political experience, no filter, and an entirely new kind of political platform–one that, in an almost total rejection of conservative orthodoxy, is anti-free trade, isolationist and doesn’t really seem to care that much about the size of government.
He’s also raised a crucial question: Is the Trump campaign about the man or the message? In other words, will Trumpism survive Trump?
Many in both parties are hoping for the former–that the Trump campaign turns out to be the brief, dramatic story of a celebrity sweeping up primary voters with lavish but empty promises, and that his harsh “America First” worldview will disappear once it’s no longer being flogged from a jet plane by a billionaire TV star.
For people who feel that way, I have some discouraging news. As part of a broad study of white working class politics, I solicited white Americans’ support for Donald Trump, but also for a hypothetical third party dedicated to “stopping mass immigration, providing American jobs to American workers, preserving America’s Christian heritage, and stopping the threat of Islam”–essentially the platform of the UK’s right-wing British National Party, adapted to the United States. How many white Americans do you think would consider voting for this type of protectionist, xenophobic party?
Clearly, Trump’s allure is bigger than Trump himself.
Who would the new party’s supporters be? What I found in the study is that much like those who support the Trump campaign, those who would consider voting for this third party are more likely to be male, of lower socioeconomic status, without a university education and ideologically conservative–in other words, the Republican Party’s longtime base. They are also more likely to be young (under 40 years old)–so this is not a phenomenon likely to pass quickly.
From six months of fieldwork in post-industrial cities in the British and American Rust Belts, I observed a remarkable sense of loss. Lost wealth in many cases. But more poignantly, I observed a sense of lost status. And while some white Americans were concerned by their loss of political status as a constituency with power, many others were more frustrated by their loss of social status–their drift from the middle of American society to its periphery. Once America’s backbone, many white working class people now feel like an afterthought.
Among young, white, conservative, working class survey respondents, those who felt a sense of loss in political power were about 30 percentage points more likely to support Donald Trump, 33 percentage points more likely to support the Tea Party and 23 percentage points more likely to support the hypothetical third party.
Among the same group of respondents, those who felt a sense of loss in social centrality were about 26 percentage points more likely to support Donald Trump, 34 percentage points more likely to support the Tea Party and 20 percentage points more likely to support the third party.
More than that, those with this sense of lost social status are more likely to perceive immigrants and other minorities to be ascendant. In short, they are feeling displaced.