One of the big policy questions for the Republican Party, in the heat of this presidential election, is what it will do if Donald Trump loses come November. Will it retrench to its traditional positions and focus, stressing free markets, low taxes and social conservatism? Or will it continue along Trump's more populist path, critiquing globalization and, in particular, immigration, at increasingly high volume?
Newly-released polling from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs suggests the populism is here to stay. Concerns about immigration, refugees and globalization predate Trump in the GOP - and thus appear unlikely to dissipate whether he wins or loses.
It is a cycle of nativism and economic pessimism that has been building for years among Republicans, particularly those who form the core of Trump's support. As the Council puts it, "Those Americans who feel more threatened by immigration, favor deportation, and feel unfavorably toward immigrants believe that the next generation will be economically worse off than adults today. Unease with immigration and pessimism about the next generation’s economic prospects reinforce each other and have proven to be key factors in support for Donald Trump."
Republican disillusionment with globalization and trade has been building for a decade. In 2006, more Republicans than Democrats said globalization had been good for America. Soon after, that flipped: Democrats today are substantially more likely to view globalization positively than Republicans do, 74 to 59 percent, and half-again as likely to do so as core Trump voters are (49 percent).
Immigration concerns are even more pronounced. A large majority of Republicans saw immigrants and refugees entering the U.S. as a "critical threat" even before Trump's candidacy (the 2015 survey was conducted almost entirely prior to Trump's campaign launch). What's notable is that concern about immigrants and refugees was similarly high across party lines in the late 1990s and after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, but concern dropped off substantially among both groups since then. Republicans have continued to be concerned.
Perceptions of immigrants and refugees as a "critical threat" peaks at 80 percent among Core Trump supporters, those who wanted him to become president more than all Republican or Democratic candidates.
Or consider the breakdown over time of Americans who think controlling and reducing illegal immigration is a very important foreign policy goal. Just like the "threat" question, Trump did not need to convince Republicans to be prioritize blocking illegal immigration - they already thought it was a major issue. And also similar to above, Republican concerns have been steady since rising after the 2001 terrorist attacks, while Democrats and independents have become less likely to say the issue is important over time. Also similar to the threat question, Trump's core supporters are significantly more likely to prioritize controlling illegal immigration than Republicans overall, 83 vs. 68 percent.
In a finding that won't surprise core Trump voters, the polling shows a divide between partisan opinion leaders and the GOP rank and file on the issue - a big divide. Republicans this year are 48 points more likely than Republican foreign policy leaders were in 2014 to say controlling and reducing illegal immigration is a "very important" foreign policy goal (68 percent for Republican adults vs. 20 percent for elites). Rank and file Republicans are also 51 points more likely to say large numbers of immigrants and refugees coming to the U.S. is a critical threat (67 vs. 16 percent).
International trade is one issue where Trump's campaign appears to have influenced public opinion in a significant way. The share of Republicans who said international trade is a "good thing" for the U.S. economy dropped from 60 percent in 2006 to 51 percent in 2016, though this was met by a slightly larger increase in the share of Democrats saying trade is a "good thing."
Polling from the Pew Research Center has found an even more dramatic shift on this issue among Republican-leaning voters, with the share saying trade is a good thing plummeting from 51 percent in early 2015 to 32 percent this August. Both Pew and Chicago Council surveys have shown that before Trump, far fewer thought trade was beneficial to American workers.
Altogether, the findings suggest it will be difficult for GOP leaders to ignore immigration and trade concerns among their base, no matter when Trump leaves the scene. Restricting the flow of people and goods across borders isn't a traditional pillar of free-market ideology, but it's becoming one in America's most traditionally market-driven party.
The 2016 Chicago Council survey was conducted online June 10-17 among a sample of 2,061 adults from the GfK Knowledge Panel. The panel of survey participants was recruited through probability-based sampling methods including Random Digit Dialing and Address Based Sampling. The margin of sampling error for overall results is plus or minus 2.4 percentage points; the error margin for individual questions and 2.6 and 3.9 percentage points, and is larger among subgroups such as Democrats and Republicans. Additional details about the survey can be found here.
Results from the 2016 Chicago Council Survey will be discussed Thursday at 10 A.M. as part of an event co-sponsored by The Washington Post and the Wilson Center.