In the 2016 US presidential election, Donald Trump is (as of the 20th of January 2016) leading the Republican opinion polls, with almost twice the number of points as runner-up Ted Cruz.

What makes him so popular?

  • 4
    Over at fivethirtyeight.com/features/… there is an interesting text about the difference between uninformed voters (can be fixed with facts and information) and misinformed voters (who rejects facts).
    – liftarn
    Commented Mar 15, 2016 at 10:41

7 Answers 7


There are multiple reasons, why Trump is succeeding, and most of those reasons boil down to the fact that he's an interesting candidate.

  • People know Trump for reasons other than politics. This makes him more interesting, and it has been known to result in electoral success, such as with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jessie Ventura, and Ronald Reagan.
  • Trump is a professional entertainer. Since he's entertaining to watch, the news media reports on him more and people enjoy watching him campaign.
  • Trump ran last cycle and was considered a joke candidate. This election cycle, he was considered a joke candidate again, in the beginning, however, he actually ended up getting more support than any other one Republican, and that forced people to take him seriously. This kind of dynamic is fascinating to people
  • Trump is a rule breaker. He said negative things about John McCain's war record, He's made fun of other candidates’ looks, as a Republican candidate, he criticized Bush because of 9/11, and he's said other outrageous-sounding things. A lot of people like the fact that he's a rule breaker, because it distinguishes him from other politicians. A lot of people also don't like the typical political rules. There is a large number of people who don't like political correctness, and Donald Trump publicly violates political correctness.
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    I'm not sure how relevant point 2 is. I didn't know who Trump was before he ran. But, here's a good and entertaining of the Trump phenomenon which sounds about right to me.
    – user8806
    Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 0:30
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    His policy plans do not play a role?
    – boot4life
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 11:21
  • @boot4life I think most of his policy plans that aren't standard Republican stuff probably fall under the "rule breaker" category. Though I'm sure some voters like those things specifically for what they are, rather than simply the fact that they're violating norms and bucking trends. I'm not sure it'd be easy to distinguish between those cases in a solid, scientific fashion. Commented Jun 22, 2019 at 17:57

Beyond simple name recognition, there is the amount of media covering them. Practically any discussion of the presidential race talks about Trump. And everyone knows the basics of his positions:

  • He's going to ban Muslims so they can't shoot up San Bernardino.
  • He's going to stop foreigners from stealing our jobs.
  • He's going to build a wall to keep the Mexicans out (bill to Mexico).

What exactly are the three most important issues for John Kasich, Chris Christie, etc.? I might manage to answer that for candidates like Rubio and Cruz. For most people, even if one of the other candidates is actually a better match, they don't know.

Trump's rich and owns a business, which gives him the appearance of competence.

Some of this is that he has chosen his issues in such a way that they sound bite well. The media tends to repeat them frequently, even if only to criticize them. But many people feel that the news people don't have the same priorities as they do. So even critical media coverage helps Trump.

He's the only candidate in the race running on populist issues. Muslim ban. Against free trade (although he says he's for it if you use the words free trade). Until now, Cruz has had competition in the evangelical and libertarian spaces from Paul, Santorum, Huckabee, and Carson--perhaps even Rubio. Rubio competes with Kasich, Bush, and Christie and possibly Cruz. Carson and Cruz have a little bit of overlap with Trump, but for the most part, he's had his lane all to himself.

And of course, remember that Trump never has done that well. His high water mark is about 40% in polls. That may be twice that of any other candidate, but it is still well short of a majority. He tends to either be a first choice or not a choice. So as candidates drop out, their supporters will tend to go to other candidates. In three person races, he has been closer to even (e.g. this new poll). In two person races, he loses (e.g. Trump vs. Cruz).

The appearance of Trump dominance has been created by the artificial nature of polling coverage. They tell us national poll results but don't reflect the actual way that primaries work, with multiple rounds that reduce the number of contenders as they go. They ignore statistics that favor other candidates. For example, both Carson and Rubio have much higher favorability ratings.

And of course, it may not be so anymore. The media coverage has shifted since Iowa. Rubio and Cruz have been getting more coverage. One poll has Trump down to a four point lead over Rubio and Cruz.

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    Moreover he claims to have a large penis. And if he becomes president, and it can be demonstrated that such member is larger than that of Vladimir Putin, then the West will have finally "won". Both sides can abandon all their nuclear weapons and we can sleep safely in our beds. Eventually, if everyone comes to accept such clear evidence of superiority, there will be no more need for costly elections to decide things - everything can be settled with a tape measure. Women can go back to doing what they are better at. – WS2 10 hours ago
    – WS2
    Commented Mar 8, 2016 at 10:14
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    On a more serious note, an article in Saturday's Guardian, by the novelist Ben Fountain, emphasised that the Republican party's influence in the South (greatly extended following Johnson and Civil Rights) has waned since Reagan. And Southern Republicans (whose grandparents were Democrats) are now looking for something other than the party's mainstream. Fountain did not extend this argument to explain Trump's popularity elsewhere - but maybe the Southern effect has connections to a general disenchantment with the increasing urbanity of the centre-right, as exemplified by Mitt Romney.
    – WS2
    Commented Mar 8, 2016 at 10:37

My objective answer - name recognition. The US is a big place, it's not uncommon for someone living on the west coast to have little or no knowledge of a congressman or senator from the Midwest or east coast. As an example, Bernie Sanders is a Vermont senator, a state abutting my own. I may be ignorant, but until this election season, knew nothing about him.

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    That would have been a factor 6 months ago, but by the time that debates are being televised nationally, it's unlikely to be as significant. There's still a lot of people who aren't following the election cycle at all, but names other than Trump's are bandied about a lot so they'd at least have been heard of.
    – Bobson
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 19:45
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    Media personalities have actually tried showing photos of the candidates to people and Trump remains the only one with consistent recognition. Many people don't know who Kasich, Christie, or Paul are. It may be surprising to people posting on a site called Politics, but most people really aren't that interested in politics. I spoke to someone the other day who thought that there had only ever been three candidates in the Democratic primary. Had no idea that Webb and Chafee had dropped out.
    – Brythan
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 23:14

I was at a lecture last week and the speaker made it so simple:

  1. JEB Bush supports replacing Americans with foreign workers.
  2. Marco Rubio has sponsored two bills to replace Americans with foreign workers.
  3. Hillary Clinton has helped foreign companies replace Americans with foreign workers.

Donald Trump says replacing Americans with foreign workers is wrong.

Trump is in the lead. DUH.

The speaker pointed out that, just like the attacks in Cologne, the rape in Sweden, most newspapers refuse to print to print stories when Americans are replaced by foreign workers because it is politically incorrect. He noted that ComputerWorld had reported about Disney replacing Americans for six months before the NY Times picked it up. Even now, most news outlets (e.g. Washington post and clearly not ABC news) have not reported the story. Most shocking, he said that until the NY Times reported the story, the Orlando Sentinel had only reported that there were layoffs at Disney but left out the fact that those losing their jobs were being replaced and had to train their foreign replacements.

The point of the talk was that the media turns a blind eye to these issues that affect working Americans in the name of political correctness. So when Donald Trump directly addresses issues with positions that have near universal support, the media has no clue WHY Trump is in the lead.

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    Trump has actually hired large numbers of foreign workers for his businesses. He doesn't just support it, he practices it.
    – Geobits
    Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 15:22
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    I think the downvotes are undeserved. user3344003 provides answers for why some Americans like Trump and what kind of speeches are being made to increase support for Trump. I would upvote the answer if it weren't for the unnecessary use of "DUH". It would also help if user3344003 would tell us more about the speaker (where, when, and who) so the information is verifiable.
    – Readin
    Commented Feb 6, 2016 at 6:05
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    The down items are deserved as the statements are presented as facts. Rewording to state that "some believe..." might work.
    – user1530
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 0:28
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    @LaZarusL it's the opinion of one unknown person (the person that gave the speech) and is entirely focused on one issue which hardly explains the entirety of Trump's popularity.
    – user1530
    Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 14:59
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    @blip I personally don't take much issue at all with the absence of "some believe" in the answer. I'd say it's pretty easy for the typical user to assume that this person is a Trump supporter, and once you make that assumption, the "some believe" is implied. Commented Mar 6, 2016 at 2:18

Trump was and is popular as much for what he isn't as compared to what he is.

  • He is not a politician.
  • He isn't prone to saying things in a convoluted and politically correct way so that no one can "hold you to it" like most politicians do.
  • He doesn't try to make everyone happy, ending up with wishy washy overly complicated policies that don't work.
  • He doesn't want us to rely on the government for everything, but rather we should accept responsibility for ourselves and our own actions.
  • He isn't the same old, same old. Politicians have built this complicated web of processes and procedures around everything that they do to the point that they have paralyzed our government and themselves. i.e. No budget for how many years????
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    Well, at this point, he actually isn't all that popular. That said, these are common phrases used by his supporters so it's on point.
    – user1530
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 17:08
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    Those polls were done by the same pollsters that said Hilary would win?
    – John S
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 17:11
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    She did win. :)
    – user1530
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 20:12
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    She won the popular vote not the presidency. Take a civics course and learn how and why our system is set up the way it is.
    – John S
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 20:16
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    Relax. It's just a silly comment--just as yours was. It's Friday.
    – user1530
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 20:46

The GOP has been affected much more than the Democratic Party by the change in the election finance laws, allowing Super PACs to spend arbitrarily large amounts of advertising money to support their preferred candidates. This has led to the GOP being controlled by just a few people, e.g. the Koch brothers have a lot of influence behind the scenes. This subverts the democratic process, leading to a backlash among voters. But because the billionaires are not all that visible themselves, only the the puppets on the strings they control are visible, the anger of the voters is directed at these puppets.

The new candidates who support a different direction for the Party (e.g. the Tea Party candidates) quickly fall prey to the influence of the billionaires, leading to the GOP voters to get even more frustrated. Note that they get frustrated not because they see that influence, rather because the candidates they voted for end up not performing well. When asked directly, most GOP voters would actually be against laws that would limit the influence of billionaires.

The failure of the democratic processes to steer the GOP in the right direction has thus led to a build up of an enormous amount of negative energy in the system. The bomb finally explodes when someone like Trump who is a billionaire himself comes along, who is able to address the enormous anger that has been build up over the years but who is able to fund himself.


The charisma of a leader is important, but just subjective and insufficient to determine his success. If you consider the American electorate as a Gustave Lebon’s type of crowd, then, Trump’s personality would be enough... However, there are objective socio-economic conditions that may actually determine his popularity with a large group of the electorate (without the need to denigrating). Basically, I’m referring to that sector of the labor force:

  1. being displaced by the new international economic order,
  2. small/mid-size firms unable to produce and compete fairly in the marketplace due to unfair (e.g., Chinese) competition,
  3. people being layoff as a result of the regulation of some (say, environmentally inefficient) industries,
  4. the fact that the emerging (alternative energy, Silicon Valley) industries demand highly qualified/educated personnel, etc.

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