From his social media war with Twitter, to his suggestion of drinking bleach to tackle coronavirus, the question of how President Trump has maintained the support of his base has baffled many. Whilst there are indications that some of his voters may be wavering, his core evangelical Christians are still marching with him.
Many national polls have indicated a decline in Trump’s overall support: his electoral prospects are slowly diminishing. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal Survey showed that 80% of Americans think the country is out of control. A further poll, by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), also found that Trump’s support is down 16 points from March to 41%. Only 32% of those surveyed in a CBS news poll supported the President’s handling of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Popular support of Trump is down, a worrying sign for a President who is months away from having to contest re-election.
Of those who are starting to lose confidence in Trump, experts predict that it is suburban voters and non-college educated Americans that will affect the President’s 2020 election result the most. A recent PRRI poll found that confidence in Trump has dropped by 19 points to only 47% among white non-college educated Americans, in spite of 67% of them supporting him in 2016.
However, this does not necessarily correlate with a significant reduction in Trump’s base.
This is because Trump’s traditional core base is made up of evangelical Christian voters – not white non-college educated Americans. While some non-college educated Americans may be worried about the President’s actions now, ultimately their support doesn’t constitute Trump’s core base. A record 81% of white evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016, and look likely to do so again.
In recent weeks, there could have been no better display of Trump’s appeal to Christian voters than when he emerged from his bunker triumphantly following Black Lives Matter protests outside the White House. As the national guard enforced a violent removal of protesters on the 1st June, Trump was seen sauntering through Lafayette Square in order to appease photographers as he proudly displayed the bible in front of St John’s Church. This PR stunt was especially successful in motivating his Christian base, with its implicit suggestion that the protests were curtailing the President’s worship. Many of his supporters came to term this a ‘Jericho walk’, indicating a religious backing of Trump.
Julian Borger from The Guardian believes that the key reason that evangelicals are so supportive of Trump is because they are purely focused on influencing judicial appointments. Their main focus is on swaying the judicial structure so that it has a hard-conservative focus. So far, they have been successful in this and therefore they are very likely to continue their support for Trump so they can continue pursuing this mission. Having appointed Gorsuch to the bench in 2017 and Kavanaugh in 2018, it is these judges’ harsh stance on social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage, that appeals to Trump voters. One key example of the way this has influenced legislation was the court’s decision to reinforce religious exemptions from anti-bias laws, a measure which was favoured by many evangelicals.
Trump’s base has continued to come out as a sign of support time after time. Whether that was in their Black Lives Matter resistance or ‘gym’ protests, their odd forms of support have continually drawn concern from more moderate Americans. In May when protesters lined Florida’s streets to protest coronavirus lockdown measures, many of them were just viewed as nuisance – self-entitled citizens who were worsening the situation for a country that already had the highest pandemic death rate in the world. These are Trump supporters: the purpose of their demonstration isn’t to protest state lockdown measures but also to display defiance against those who criticise Trump’s more lax approach to the lockdown.
Trump’s attempts to placate his base with his COVID-19 response has cost thousands of lives
Like his radical supporters, Trump looks towards the economic benefits of easing lockdown above all else. His base’s free speech demonstrations are largely to support his hands-off approach to coronavirus. At the time, Trump was quoted as saying “we’re heartened that the worst of the pain and suffering is going to be behind us” to reassure these voters that they were now largely free to do what they liked. Yet, in spite of this, the US death toll for coronavirus is approximately at 120,000, and rising, which suggests that many people’s suffering is not over, and that Trump’s attempts to placate his base with his COVID-19 response has cost thousands of lives.
As Anthony Zurcher pointed out on the BBC’s ‘Americast’ podcast, support for Trump has become cult-like and people are willing to take any measures in order to remain loyal to their perceived hero. Just as football supporters cheer on their favourite team, Trump supporters show up to rallies in their ‘MAGA’ jerseys as a display of unity regardless of Trump’s continuous political misjudgments. These indoctrinated individuals are unlikely to change their minds – or their votes – any time soon.
Trump has had the confidence and the backing to subvert checks and balances
The stability that Trump’s base has offered him has meant that he’s been able to exert power in a way that many of his predecessors could not. Whether it’s refusing to grant tax records to Congress or issuing another executive order when he wishes, Trump has had the confidence and the backing to subvert checks and balances.
Trump has employed numerous tactics to retain his base, many of which alienate much of America. . Division is ultimately the key factor. The President’s anti-establishment and fake media rhetoric enables him to seem like one of them – them primarily being blue-collar workers who have been politically ostracised by a decline in American industry over recent years. This tactic has the capacity to turn his base away from once trusted forms of information – such as the news.
By making the media out to be the ‘enemy’ as Trump so often does, he has encouraged his base to avoid mainstream media outlets and consume information only from a select circle. These ‘allowed’ outlets include other Trump supporters and, most importantly, Trump’s Twitter page. Trump’s portrayal of himself as a victim of the media must be working as Americans increasingly lack trust in what they see as liberalised media forms.
Yet, as Ron Christie points out, it isn’t just Trump’s base that will get him over the finish line: he will have to do more if he wants to win in November. As the election is predicted to be tight this year, it seems as though independent voters are likely to determine the outcome.
The Trump campaign should be worried about the sub-urban voters that they are losing: they have little loyalty to the President and could decide the result. The demographics of sub-urban voters mean that they are typically swing voters. The way they vote will depend on how much Trump’s actions have affected them, and whether they agree with his handling of the current crises.
Many suburban voters turned away from Trump in 2018 giving the Democrats a resounding victory in the House of Representatives and they’ll be likely to do this again, in places like Texas. Although many view Biden as too much of an establishment figure, after Trump’s handling of the pandemic and his response to the Black Lives Matter movement, many independent voters might find it very difficult to vote for the President.
While his base has continued to be supportive thus far, this will change if the loss of jobs from coronavirus hits hard. As the US plummets to 10th in the World Competitiveness Ranking and the country’s budget deficit is likely to reach $3.7 trillion by the end of the 2020 fiscal year, the economy has clearly suffered. Trump’s base are the most vulnerable to an economic crisis; this is likely to be what poses the greatest threat to his re-election, especially in the crucial rust-belt states.
An ‘October surprise’ is always around the corner in politics, and would be a present for the Democrats in November. How Biden fares in the coming months will be crucial to bring about a shift in the tide of US Politics. The question remains: what will matter most for Trump’s base in the voting booth – their livelihoods or their candidate??