Within weeks of the November 2016 U.S. presidential election, social media posts expressing voters’ second thoughts began trending. While some Donald Trump voters felt he was backtracking on initial hard-line positions, the Huffington Post and other websites reported on hashtags such as #Trumpgrets — used by voters irked that his campaign persona was not simply an act to win votes. A subsequent wave of regretful Trump voters tweeted about executive orders they perceived as misguided and dangerous.
Even more nuanced mainstream news stories included such headlines as “These Iowans voted for Trump. Many of them are already disappointed” or comments that “a significant segment of Trump’s coalition is not entirely enchanted with his actions or public persona.”
In contrast, polls seem to suggest that the 45th president enjoys historically high approval ratings among members of his party. Other journalists report continuing enthusiasm from the small towns that delivered his strongest electoral support.
Which story is closer to the truth? How many Trump supporters continue to support him enthusiastically? How many continue to support him but are disturbed by many of his actions? How many genuinely regret their vote?
Here’s how we did our research
Our Mood of the Nation Poll from Penn State’s McCourtney Institute of Democracy provides answers. Conducted by YouGov, the poll tracks the mood of the public through traditional survey questions and numerous open-ended questions that allow citizens to express themselves in their own words. The poll’s methodology is described here.
Our Feb. 23-27 poll asked a nationally representative sample of 1,000 Americans to report on how they cast their vote in November. The results of these reports closely align with other national polls, with Hillary Clinton voters comprising 49 percent of the sample, Trump voters 46 percent, with 3 percent and 2 percent for minor-party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, respectively.
Who would vote differently?
On the next screen, we asked everyone, “Suppose you could go back in time and vote again in the November election. What would you do?”
Respondents were presented with the same choices — Trump, Clinton, Stein, Johnson, someone else, or not vote at all. Of the 339 poll participants who originally voted for Trump, only 12 (3½ percent) said they would do something different.
Only three individuals (fewer than 1 percent of Trump voters) said that, could they go back in time, they would cast their vote for Clinton. Seven said they would vote for one of the minor-party candidates.
When we asked why, most regretful Trump voters pointed specifically to his performance as president. (Misspellings are original.)
“He has moved kinda fast with the immagration ban, and abortion law.”
“I don’t like his decisions so far.”
“Trump’s actions since the inaugeration.”
“… Trump cannot get out of his own way. He won’t stop running his mouth and has no humility.”
These sentiments echo regrets highlighted in social media. But they are too few to conclude that Trump’s electoral coalition has somehow eroded. Moreover, of the already small number of Trump voters expressing regret, only one in four would have shifted their support to the Democratic nominee.
In short, the 45th president’s electoral coalition remains intact.
What would Trump voters tell him now, if they could?
But maybe the coalition has weakened. After all, even if they would not now switch their vote to Clinton, many Trump voters may harbor serious reservations..
To find out, we asked all those sticking with Trump, “If you could send a message to President Trump, what would it be?”
We did this to give Trump voters the opportunity to ask the president to tone things down, act more presidential, identify issues of importance to them or express support.
Of the 327 Trump voters who would vote for him again, only 42 (or 13 percent) asked him to start behaving more presidential. Typical was a 51-year-old woman from Virginia who said she would tell the president, “Continue with your agenda but stop tweeting.”
Similarly, an 81-year-old man from Florida offered this advice, “Maybe cut down on the Twitter’s and keep your head up you are doing fine.”
Other supporters offered advice like:
“don’t talk too much”
“think before you speak!”
“Please drop the war on the fake news media, and concentrate more on the real issues.”
We could identify only seven Trump voters who would send a really strong message. One 47-year-old man from Alabama wrote,
I would ask him to get off his high NY horse and get down to basics and stop lying, cheating, stealing, blowing his horn and get with the proper Cabinet and get this country back on its feet. We don’t need a wall, but we do need to stop immigration…
Yet these messages were dwarfed by the enormous show of support for the president among those who voted for him. Many, like this 61-year-old independent from Wisconsin, expressed gratitude, saying, “Thank you for what you are doing for our country. Keep up the good work. Don’t cave under pressure.”
The largest number of Trump voters sampled — representing millions of voters — asked the president to “stay strong,” “keep it up,”“hang in there” or “stay the course.” Many simply expressed their feelings as fans, as with the respondent who wrote, “Go Donald Go!” Others expressed excitement and pleasure over his performance, as with the voters who wrote:
“Keep up the good work…continue draining the swamp to bring America back to her greatness.”
“You are doing a wonderful job. Keep on doing what you are doing. The American people are behind you. Only those who do not respect what you are dissenting.”
The Mood of the Nation Poll shows clearly that media attention to the #trumpregrets phenomenon is very misleading. For Trump’s supporters, any news reports that his first weeks as president have been rocky, unpresidential or worse have hardly mattered. There is virtually no regret.
While his governance has galvanized opposition groups and his overall approval level remains low by historical standards, his electoral base is not only intact but enthusiastic and energized, providing Trump with a significant base of power. Those who fail to recognize this may find themselves underestimating his capabilities in governance in the same way that many underestimated his candidacy.
Eric Plutzer is professor of political science at Penn State University and editor of Public Opinion Quarterly, and he directs the Mood of the Nation Poll.
Michael Berkman is professor of political science and director of Penn State University’s McCourtney Institute for Democracy.