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Opinion New poll: There is no singular Trump voter

A stack of Trump cowboy hats in D.C. on Nov. 14, 2020. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
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A previous version of this article incorrectly said that 46 percent of survey respondents said they would not support Donald Trump in 2024. Only 20 percent of respondents said this. In addition, YouGov corrected two figures in its report after publication; they have been updated below to reflect those changes.

The motivation behind voters’ support for President Donald Trump has been a source of intense speculation ever since he burst onto the political scene. But there is no singular “Trump voter.” Despite how it is often portrayed in the media, Trump’s coalition is ideologically and demographically diverse.

That’s according to a new survey from the polling firm YouGov. The poll, which I helped to write, collected responses from 1,000 self-described 2020 Trump voters and was sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where I am a senior fellow.

Trump voters are typically thought of as hardcore conservatives and evangelical Christians with a strong White, blue-collar vibe. These demographics are part of Trump’s support, but far from all of it.

Take religion, for example. The poll shows that 41 percent of Trump voters describe themselves as evangelicals, but 24 percent say they are atheist, agnostic or have no religious beliefs in particular. Only 31 percent say they attend religious services at least weekly; 46 percent say they attend services “seldom” or “never.” Many of Trump’s voters are religious Christians who like his pro-life views and support for religious liberty, but many more are not.

Nor are these voters uniformly conservative. Seventy-one percent say they are conservative, but 26 percent say they are liberal or moderate. Significantly, more than 50 percent of the sizeable number of Trump voters who had voted for Barack Obama or a third-party candidate in 2012 say they are liberal or moderate. These voters are disproportionally blue-collar Whites and non-Whites, the same voters that Republican strategists say they need to prevail in the future. It seems that running as a “severe conservative” — as then-Gov. Mitt Romney described himself — may unite the GOP, but it also alienates crucial swing voters.

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Trump’s voters are also divided on a host of economic issues once thought to define the Republican voter. They do tend to be united on broad themes such as thinking government does too much (74 percent), government is too big (84 percent) and taxes are too high (75 percent). But they divide sharply on applying these principles.

Forty-five percent agree, for example, with the statement that “government should guarantee all people a minimum standard of living if they work to the best of their ability.” Sixty-three percent say Social Security benefits for future retirees should be kept at the same level as for current retirees, even if payroll taxes must be raised to finance it. Forty-five percent also say that it is more important to ensure “every senior citizen can get the health care they need regardless of the cost to the rest of us” than it is to control the cost of Medicare. Even the central tenet of supply-side economics, that cutting taxes on the rich helps grow the economy for everyone, finds support among only 54 percent of Trump voters. Any 2024 candidate who wants to run on the pre-Trump economic orthodoxy will turn off as many Trump voters as they turn on.

Belief that climate change is real is also surprisingly prevalent among Trump voters. Only 34 percent said that “climate change is not real and government should do nothing to combat it.” Even among self-described “very conservative” voters, only 49 percent are climate change deniers. A majority of virtually every demographic agreed that climate change is real but that “science and technology developed by the private sector and government can help make its effects less severe.”

Even Trump himself divides his voters. Sixty-six percent of his supporters say they are more a supporter of him than the Republican Party, while 34 percent say otherwise. Fifty-four percent say they would definitely vote for him in the 2024 Republican primaries, but 20 percent would not support him, and 26 percent would only “probably” back him. These findings surely overstate his standing among the GOP more broadly, as a significant number of Republican voters either backed President Biden, voted for a third-party candidate or skipped the presidential race entirely. Trump starts in a strong position for the nomination, but he is nowhere near uniting his 2020 coalition, much less gaining support from voters who opposed him in November.

Certain issues and cultural stances do unite his coalition. Eighty-nine percent, for example, think that employers should have to certify with the federal government that a prospective employee is legally permitted to work in the United States before hiring. Ninety-six percent think people who get government benefits should have to make an effort to work if their health and family circumstance allow. More than 90 percent believe that Black Americans, other racial and ethnic minorities, and women have a “mostly fair” chance to “succeed in today’s America.” And nearly 90 percent believe America is the greatest country in the world and that “Americans are losing faith in the ideas that made this country great.”

The poll produced a wealth of other data to help understand the Trump coalition and chart its future. Serious Republican leaders should be doing that and trying to build out on Trump’s conservative-populist alliance rather than mobilize intraparty circular firing squads.

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