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I am a well educated Republican, of generally conservative views. Pretty much every day I see and hear people talk about how poor of a candidate Donald Trump is. But he's winning primary after primary, and is likely to win tomorrow in my home state. Every other election I've known plenty of people who are voting for the top several candidates, but for some reason unknown to me the circle of people I talk politics with don't seem to be voting for Trump. Why is that? A few possible thoughts I've had:

  1. Donald Trump supporters are less willing to talk about their desire to vote for him.
  2. Donald Trump supporters fall under a category of people with whom I have little contact, at least of the type that would be likely to talk politics.
  3. Something about my attitude makes me less likely to see his supporters than normal. I'd like to think this isn't the case, but it could be.
  4. Something else?
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35  
It's simply because you and your friends are in a different demographic. – blip Mar 1 at 5:10
38  
Selection bias. – Matthew Read Mar 1 at 9:38
3  
Perhaps Diebold Election Systems likes Trump more than you and your friends do? – Eric Towers Mar 1 at 14:30
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I grew up in the only integrated neighborhood in a segregated city. I can remember wondering how the Republicans ever hoped to win anything, when I couldn't find a single person at my elementary school who supported them. If you can answer my question, you are well on the way to answering yours. – T.E.D. Mar 2 at 16:17
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I've seen reports that liberals are more likely to unfollow/unfriend conservatives that they disagree with. Perhaps this holds true inside the population that votes Republican too? Perhaps you're insulating yourself in a bubble of groupthink? – Aaron Hall Mar 2 at 19:25
up vote 53 down vote accepted

This is a great question, but it's really impossible to answer for certain at this point in time. Trump's current success is defying a lot of "conventional wisdom" about how primaries go. That said, the odds are good that your reason #2 is the most likely:

"Donald Trump supporters fall under a category of people with whom I have little contact, at least of the type that would be likely to talk politics."


This article from FiveThirtyEight, while it dates from December (well before any actual votes) still seems accurate when it says:

The latest polls of the Republican presidential primary show a party badly divided by education: Donald Trump’s strong showings are entirely attributable to huge leads among voters without a college degree, while voters with a degree are split among several candidates.

It then goes on to draw a parallel to last election cycle:

A similar diploma divide was starkly evident in 2012, when college-educated Republicans almost single-handedly propelled Mitt Romney to the nomination.

Romney’s two chief rivals, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, combined to win 765,329 more primary votes than Romney before they exited the race in April, thanks to their dominance among voters without college degrees. But those non-college-educated GOP voters split fairly evenly between Santorum and Gingrich, allowing Romney to prevail with a plurality of votes.

Part of what Trump has going for him this election cycle appears to be motivating the non-college-educated-but-conservative segment of the population to turn out and vote in higher numbers than usual. All four Republican contests so far have had greater turnout than in 2012, including Nevada where Trump got more votes this year than there were votes cast in 2012. If Trump supporters are people who generally have not been involved in primaries or politics in the past, then you and your politically-aware circles would have very little overlap with them.

Additionally, since that demographic is showing up specifically to vote for Trump, then the division of the more politically active segments between the rest of the field leaves an opening for a plurality candidate who can never reach a majority. One theory says that Trump has a "ceiling" of somewhere around 35% support (+/- 5%). 35% is a lot in a race where the other 65% is split 22/22/8/8/5, but it's nowhere near enough in a race where the other 65% is united. Even if it were 45%/55% after consolidation, Trump wouldn't be winning.


All that can probably be summed up by saying:

  1. You aren't finding Trump voters in your circles because you're talking to college-educated people who were already interested in politics.
  2. Trump is winning because the voters in your demographic are splitting their votes among non-Trump candidates.
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1  
The theory espoused by 538 (or is that your ad-lib?) on the 35% ceiling is easily testable as more candidates drop out. If the theory works, Trump will have no bounce in share and the other candidates will gather the majority of splillover. If it is false, Trump will rise above 35% by a meaningful amount. – user4012 Mar 1 at 15:11
50  
It's almost as if a two-party system is insufficient to represent the range of actual voter viewpoints. – Nathan Long Mar 1 at 15:57
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Conventional wisdom topped Trump out at 15% then 20% then 25%, so now it is 35%. Conventional wisdom has been wrong this entire election cycle and they are wrong about Trump and who and why people are voting for him. I wouldn't give any credence to the so-called experts this election. They still can't admit to themselves that the people have finally realized their party leaders are liars who have no intention of doing what they say they are going to do. I guess the "college-educated" crowd hasn't picked up on that simple fact yet. – Dunk Mar 1 at 21:08
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@Dunk - "Conventional wisdom" says that Trump shouldn't have ever made it as far as he did. That's been thrown out long since. Polls try to explain who is voting for him and why. If people are deliberately lying to pollsters en masse, which is a possibility, then Trump should do significantly better than the polls when it comes time to vote. Once today's votes have been counted and compared to polls over the previous week, we'll have evidence one way or the other for that theory. Conversely, if he does about as well as the polls predict, then that means they're pretty accurate. – Bobson Mar 1 at 21:35
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@MonkeyZeus That's only if you use plurality voting, aka "first past the post." There are other systems that allow for majority voting. They generally involve having people either vote multiple times, or use some preference based system. My favorite is "instant runoff," which uses preference-based voting to simulate a sort of "kick off the island" approach. You start with, say, 5 candidates, and the fifth place gets kicked off, and anyone who voted for them gets their second choice. This is repeated until you get a majority. – trlkly Mar 3 at 18:24

LA Times had an insightful article on the topic: "Polls may actually underestimate Trump's support, study finds", which contradicts the accepted answer's theory to an extent, and is much closer to your question's theory #1 (Having said that, I agree with @bobson that at this point we probably don't have enough hard data to be sure what the causality is).

The study (by Morning Consult, a polling and media company) found that, when randomly choosing which method to use to poll individuals:

... confirmed that "voters are about six points more likely to support Trump when they’re taking the poll online then when they’re talking to a live interviewer,” said Dropp.

Some significant number of Trump supporters, especially those with college educations, are "less likely to say that they support him when they’re talking to a live human” than when they are in the “anonymous environment” of an online survey, said the firm's polling director, Kyle Dropp.

The most telling part of the experiment, however, was that not all types of people responded the same way. Among blue-collar Republicans, who have formed the core of Trump's support, the polls were about the same regardless of method. But among college-educated Republicans, a significant difference appeared, with Trump scoring 9 points better in the online poll.

The researcher posed a plausible theory to explain the discrepancy, which neatly addresses your own conundrum:

The most likely explanation for that education gap, Dropp and his colleagues believe, is a well-known problem known as social-desirability bias -- the tendency of people to not want to confess unpopular views to a pollster.


Imagine your own conversation with your peer, 2 versions of it. Importantly, the "You" quotes are ones that your peer imagines you will make (after hearing all the mainstream conservative Trump-disapproval and mainsteam liberal media Trump-bashing, or simply talking to another anti-Trump Republican before) - NOT necessarily what you will actually do or say.

Imaginary You: "I'm voting for Rubio"
Social-approval-conscious-Peer: I am voting for Trump
You (looking as if they just admitted to liking Tila Tequila): "But Why? He's a Misogynist!"
Peer: No he's not. He's acting like an %$$ to everyone of any gender.
You looking at your peer with disappointment or unliking them on Facebook
You: He's a racist! He wants to make Muslims wear a badge! He's Godwined!
Peer: For a professed conservative, why are you so eager to believe liberal media lies that are easily disproven?
You: looking at your peer with even more disapproval

vs.

You: "I'm voting for Rubio"
Peer: says anything except they voted for Trump
You: Not disapprove of peer

As you can see #2 is clearly a superior outcome for your peer.

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7  
this is the most valid answer. in our society if you publicly espouse non-mainstrean thought you risk ostrocization. I vote for trump. I tell people i'm a libertarian. – hownowbrowncow Mar 1 at 16:42
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I agree that this might also be a valid answer. It's not the narrative that makes the most sense to me at this point, but it is certainly feasible. – Bobson Mar 1 at 19:01
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@Bobson Do you remember that guy who created Javascript? Do you remember he also co-founded Mozilla? Well he was forced out of his own company that he founded because of a politically sensitive 'thought-crime'. Same thing in this situation. – hownowbrowncow Mar 1 at 19:25
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@AndrewGrimm - nope, it's me trying to construct a proper 100-part German word in English :) But I do have Russian linguistic patterns, so it's a plausible influence. – user4012 Mar 2 at 0:14
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Why this direction and not the other direction? Why can't it be that they are embarrassed to tell their peers that they will vote for Trump, but will tell the pollsters because it's anonymous? – trlkly Mar 3 at 18:27

Where I am nearly everyone I know around me is planning to go for Trump. I have only one friend not in the Trump camp. It sounds like

  1. Donald Trump supporters fall under a category of people with whom I have little contact, at least of the type that would be likely to talk politics.

applies to you.

The Joker's line in Batman applies to D.C.: "This town needs an enema!"

Donald Trump is perceived as the person most likely to give D.C. the enema it desperately needs.

Those of us who deal with the Washington cess pool: 1. Know how bad things are; and 2. What is going on; and 3. How the media censors the news of what is going on.

The public senses #1 but, because of #3, does not know #2.

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Don't read too much into Trump's wins. So far, he's only won Republican primaries, which typically have a lower turnout, and more dedicated voters than the general election. But he has not been a dominating candidate. He only got 35.34% of the vote in New Hampshire, and 32.5% in South Carolina. Enough to win, obviously, but two-thirds of voters didn't vote for him, and there is no way to spin that into a positive. So why will so few people admit to voting for him? Because so few actually have.

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This doesn't deserve downvotes. It's a valid point. – blip Mar 1 at 18:17
    
It's actually caucuses which typically have lower turnout and more dedicated voters than primaries. – Bobson Mar 1 at 18:58
    
I read somewhere (IIRC on 538) that 30% of Rep primary voters is about the number of people who believe that Moon landing was hoax staged in Hollywood. All is not lost yet. – Peter Masiar Mar 1 at 22:51
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It's well-known that the primaries favor fringe candidates, while the general election favors centrists. – Mark Mar 2 at 2:05
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This answer doesn't stack up. A lot of Trump's support is from people who don't normally vote in primaries. – David Richerby Mar 2 at 23:20

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