How this analysis was conducted
To see what similarities and differences there were in voters’ motivations in supporting Trump and Sanders, I compared the responses of both candidates’ supporters to the June PRRI/Brookings study. For this analysis, I defined Trump supporters as Republicans (and independents who lean Republican) who said that Trump is their preferred Republican nominee, and Sanders supporters as all Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who selected him as their preferred nominee.
Who cares about free trade?
Trump is correct that his supporters and Sanders’s supporters are both concerned about free trade. Respondents were asked which two statements about free trade they agreed with:
Such agreements are mostly helpful because they open markets for U.S. companies, or
Such agreements are mostly hurtful because they send jobs overseas and drive down wages.
Among Trump supporters, 69 percent agreed with the second statement. So did 52 percent of Sanders supporters. There appears to be some common sentiment on trade, although Sanders supporters aren’t as dedicated to that stance as Trump supporters.
Neither group of supporters considers trade agreements to be a particularly salient issue to them personally — although, again, more Trump supporters than Sanders supporters consider it a priority. Roughly one in three Trump supporters (36 percent) say such agreements are a critical issue; fewer than one in four Sanders supporters (23 percent) say that.
In other words, Trump won’t win Sanders supporters based on opposition to free trade. It’s just not one of their most pressing political concerns.
What should the nation do about jobs and unemployment?
Both Sanders and Trump supporters say they are concerned about jobs and unemployment. But their preferred policy solutions will be quite different, considering their very different ideological makeup.
Approximately half (49 percent) of Trump supporters describe themselves as very conservative or conservative. Not surprisingly, only 23 percent are strongly in favor of raising taxes on wealthy people and corporations in order to invest in education and infrastructure as a way to improve the economy.
By contrast, only 10 percent of Sanders’s backers consider themselves conservative — and fully 60 percent want to tax the rich for those economic stimulus efforts, supported by left-of-center figures like Sanders.
Is immigration dangerous or healthy for the U.S.?
Those attitudes are roughly the opposite of Sanders supporters’ beliefs. Only 35 percent of Bernie’s followers think illegal immigrants hurt the economy; only 13 percent think immigrants come to take away American jobs; and only 24 percent see immigrants as a burden — 68 percent say that immigrants’ hard work and talents are likely to strengthen the United States.
That’s starkly visible in the last figure, where you can see that Trump supporters oppose immigration, like right-wing populist movements both here and abroad — while Sanders supporters overwhelmingly reject that vision, instead embracing diversity and believing that immigrants bring not drawbacks but benefits to the United States.
You can’t blame Trump for trying to appeal to Bernie Sanders’s disappointed voters. But before these voters defected to Trump, they would have to abandon core beliefs on which they are closer to Hillary Clinton.
Recall 2008, when John McCain also called on Hillary Clinton’s disaffected supporters to join him in defeating Barack Obama — and even tapped Sarah Palin as his running mate in an attempt to woo women. But dissident Clinton supporters in 2008 overwhelmingly broke for Obama in the general election — as Sanders supporters will almost surely do for Clinton this time around.
Melissa Deckman, the Louis L. Goldstein professor of public affairs at Washington College, chairs the board of the Public Religion Research Institute and is the author of Tea Party Women: Mama Grizzlies: Grassroots Activists and the Changing Face of the American Right (NYU Press).