Understanding the Trump Vote

Karlyn Bowman and Eleanor O'Neil, AEI, November 30, 2016

Who were the Trump voters, and how did they differ from Clinton voters? The exit poll conducted by the five national networks and the Associated Press is a unique tool to look at their demographic profiles, their attitudes, and their alignments.

Demographics: Let’s look at some voter profiles first. In terms of age, 22 percent of Hillary Clinton’s supporters were ages 18-29; 15 percent of Donald Trump’s were. Fifty-one percent of her supporters were over age 45; 62 percent of his were.

The country and the electorate is becoming more diverse racially, but the presidential candidates attracted different coalitions. Fifty-five percent of her supporters were white and 45 percent nonwhite; 87 percent of his were white and 13 percent nonwhite.

Fifty-four percent of her supporters had a college degree; 45 percent of his did. Their supporters did not differ significantly by total family income. Sixty-seven percent of her supporters had incomes below $100,000 and 33 percent above it. Those responses for Trump’s supporters were 65 and 35 percent, respectively.

In terms of their religious affiliations, 43 percent of her supporters were Protestant or other Christian, 22 percent Catholic, and 4 percent Jewish. His supporters were 62 percent Protestant or other Christian, 24 percent Catholic, and 1 percent Jewish. There was one big difference in this area. Twenty-one percent of her supporters checked the box that said “none” when asked about their religion; 8 percent of his supporters did. Twenty-seven percent of her supporters said they attended religious services once a week or more. Forty percent of his supporters did.

Eighty-eight percent of her supporters were born a U.S. citizen. Ninety-four percent of his supporters said they were.

Attitudes: The attitudinal differences were striking but not unexpected in many cases. The exit pollsters asked voters about illegal immigrants working in the US. Eight-nine percent of Clinton’s supporters said most illegal immigrants should be offered a chance to apply for legal status. Trump’s supporters were more divided. Fifty percent said most illegal immigrants should be offered a chance for legal status, while 44 percent said most illegal immigrants should be deported.

His supporters were more in line with his stance on securing the border: Seventy-four percent wanted to build a wall along the entire border with Mexico, while 19 percent were opposed. Nine percent of Clinton’s supporters wanted to build one.


Twenty-one percent of her supporters said the country’s criminal justice system treats all people fairly, while 72 percent said it treats black unfairly. Sixty-six percent of his supporters said it treats all people fairly and 22 percent that it treats blacks unfairly.


Neither Trump’s supporters nor Clinton’s supporters thought their candidate was perfect, and neither group was perfectly aligned with their candidate’s views. But a number of questions show Clinton generally received stronger support from her voters than Trump did from his.


While they were more in agreement with his proposal to build a wall on the border, 19 percent opposed it, compared to 9 percent of Clinton’s supporters who broke with her position and supported the wall.

Clinton’s favorability among her own supporters was 86 percent, compared to Trump’s 78 percent among his. Ninety-four percent of Clinton’s supporters said she was “qualified to serve as president,” compared to 76 percent of Trump’s supporters who said that about him. Asked whether their chosen candidate had “the temperament to serve effectively as president,” 94 percent of Clinton’s supporters said yes; 71 percent of Trump’s did. The closest Trump’s support among his voters came to matching Clinton’s was on the percentage who perceived their candidate as “honest and trustworthy” – 67 percent of Trump’s supporters; 71 percent of Clinton’s.


Voters who cast their ballot for Clinton strongly believed in her. So what motivated voters who had mixed feelings about Trump’s candidacy and positions to support him?


Trump voters were a coalition of people generally dissatisfied with the way things are going, some who voted for Trump because they strongly supported him, and others who chose him because he represented change.


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