A CBS News poll out Thursday reaffirms what many other presidential campaign surveys have found before: Donald Trump’s strongest supporters are people without college degrees.
This is a fact. And yet, when it shows up in one news story after another, it sometimes feels like just a little bit more — a condescending suggestion that Trump backers are, as Salon put it in December, a bunch of “uneducated rubes.”
That story went on to explain that “the truth is more complicated.” It noted that Trump also has won over many people who are well-educated; “complicated” did not mean the “rube” label is unfair to much of his base.
Similar attitudes show up in subtle (and occasionally not-so-subtle) ways when the media report on the intelligence and education levels of Trump supporters. Backers of Team Trump have been described in news stories as “downscale,” “relatively ignorant” and “uninformed.”
A recent NPR story captured the trend perfectly when it noted that the GOP front-runner’s “real strength is among those without a bachelor’s degree” and that “plenty of politicos and pundits have rationalized Donald Trump’s political ascent as the result of his enormous popularity among white working-class voters.”
The language chosen here is very careful. Notice that it doesn't even say Trump voters are "less-educated." It merely says that they don't have bachelor's degrees, which is an incontrovertible fact.
But also notice the use of the R-word -- "rationalize." It seems to convey an underhanded effort by “pundits” in the press to discount Trump’s polling success because many of the people who back him aren’t terribly bright, don’t know what they’re talking about and, thankfully, aren’t very likely to show up on Election Day, anyway.
The composition of a candidate’s base is certainly important, and it might even be true that some or many of the people lining up behind Trump are drawn to his blustery projection of strong leadership, rather than a comprehensive understanding of his policy proposals.
But if that’s the case, journalists should consider the possibility that Trump supporters’ lack of information is a reflection of the press, too — a reflection of a systemic elitism in political reporting that turns off many people who didn’t pursue college degrees and therefore don’t consume much news because they don’t feel like the mainstream media have anything to say to them.
Maybe these voters would know more about Trump and wouldn’t be so attracted to his angry message if they felt the press was more in touch with their lives.
Trump’s supporters seem to believe they are being left behind in their own country. And the ones without diplomas don’t love him because they’re dumb; they love him because Trump — despite being a Wharton-educated billionaire — listens to and voices their concerns.
He fills a vacuum that the media helped create.