Understanding Trump Voters: A Good Start

This long book review, only slightly shortened, is the most recent essay on the Witherspoon Institute’s website.

Pundits will be slicing and dicing the Trump Phenomenon ages hence. In the meantime, the authors of the book in question (and the reviewer, too) have captured well the American zeitgeist.

Sadly, in the almost-two-years since Trump took office, it is still impossible to know whether the wishes of the electorate will be honored by their representatives in Washington D.C.; so far there appear to be few, very few, men of good will there. Or women, either, for that matter. It resembles nothing so much as it does a Fellini film.

The bright spots on the political landscape are the Trump rallies that continue as the hallmark of his direct approach to average American people, people whom American MSM would barricade behind their wall of innuendo and fabrications. Trump’s clever work-around will be taken by future presidents to get past these jornolists.

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The Great Revolt: Understanding Real Trump Voters

by Carson Holloway

The country’s ruling elites misunderstood or ignored the concerns of a significant segment of the electorate. The Great Revolt suggests that those elites should move beyond lamenting the misfortune (to them) of Trump’s elevation to the presidency and ponder the mistakes on their part that made it possible.

Almost two years after the event, many Americans — even the most sophisticated political observers — are still astonished and perplexed by the results of the 2016 presidential election. “What happened?” many people wonder —including Hillary Clinton herself, who chose those words for the title of her election memoir. How did Donald Trump, the most unlikely presidential candidate in American history, ace Clinton and her party out of the presidency?

Was it a mere fluke? This, of course, is the explanation favored by many Democrats and even some Trump-averse Republicans. Trump, after all, lost the national popular vote, and his electoral triumph depended on eking out narrow popular vote victories in certain key states. No one can dismiss the possibility that, had one or two details played out differently — say, for example, had former FBI Director James Comey remained silent about his brief re-opening of the Clinton e-mail investigation — Clinton would have prevailed.

Or perhaps Trump’s victory was not a fluke, but rather a sign of a significant electoral realignment. This interpretation is favored by Trump’s most ardent supporters, and, no doubt, by the president himself. Trump may have lost the popular vote, but he won the electoral college vote handily — more handily than any Republican since 1988. Moreover, Trump “flipped” a number of states that had been reliably Democratic for decades. While he only won them narrowly, he far outperformed previous GOP nominees in those states.

It is only fair to acknowledge that Hillary Clinton was not alone in having her presidential aspirations thwarted by external factors; Trump faced a national press corps that seemed determined to destroy his candidacy from its inception. One can only wonder how much stronger his campaign might have been had the media chosen to act as a nonpartisan conduit of information instead of as an unpaid arm of the Clinton campaign.

Confronted with these competing plausible interpretations, how are we to understand the significance of the 2016 presidential election? Salena Zito and Brad Todd try to answer this important question in their excellent and fascinating study of Trump voters, The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics. As the subtitle suggests, the authors are inclined to believe that the 2016 election was no fluke but portends a reconfiguration of the forces that have traditionally shaped American politics. Nevertheless, they are properly cautious about whether Trump’s coalition can be held together and, if so, whether it can remain a governing majority for long.

Who Voted for Trump?

Zito, a journalist, and Todd, a Republican political consultant, make their task more manageable by choosing not to examine Trump supporters nationwide but instead to focus on a relatively narrow subset of them. They surveyed and did extensive interviews with Trump voters from ten counties in five states of America’s Great Lakes region: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Iowa.

This approach serves the authors well. These states — and these voters — are where the difference was made and where there is something new to be learned. Most of Trump’s voters, after all, are a relatively well-known and well-understood breed: loyal, long-term Republicans in traditionally Republican states. In these Great Lakes states, however, we also find long-time non-voters and even Democrats (including, remarkably, Democratic Party and labor union activists) who were moved by Trump’s populist appeal either to vote for the first time or to walk away from the party around which they had organized their whole political lives.

The Great Revolt identifies and profiles seven kinds of voters essential to Trump’s winning coalition in these decisive states:

  • “Red-blooded and blue-collared” workers: those who appreciated Trump’s defense of American manufacturing.
  • “Perot-istas”: less partisan, and sometimes politically inactive, citizens who had been attracted to Ross Perot’s independence and who found Trump’s alluring as well.
  • “Rough rebounders”: people who had suffered (but also recovered from) setbacks and who identified with Trump’s comeback from bankruptcy, as well as his sometimes uncertain effort to find his way forward in an unfamiliar (political) undertaking.
  • “Girl gun power” voters: younger female gun-owners who were pleased by Trump’s defense of the Second Amendment.
  • “Rotary reliables”: well-educated and civically engaged leaders of smaller communities who supported Trump in part because they live and work among working class people who saw in Trump a defender of their interests and their importance.
  • “King Cyrus Christians”: religious conservatives who acknowledged Trump’s personal failings but saw him as a sincere and energetic defender of religious liberty.
  • “Silent suburban moms”: a group much more favorable to Clinton, but among whom Trump was able to hang on to enough support to prevail in the states examined.

The Great Revolt is refreshing and enlightening in part because it is so non-judgmental. The urge to denounce Trump’s voters has already been indulged far beyond the limits of reason, prudence, and justice, and the authors wisely eschew it. Rather, they listen sympathetically to these voters in order to learn about them and their concerns.

Redefining President Trump’s Base

As a result, their book contains many instructive surprises. Some commentators have suggested that Trump’s political base is the “white underclass.” This idea was never very plausible. Members of the “white underclass” — or any “underclass” — generally do not vote in primaries. Nor is any such “underclass” sufficiently numerous and engaged to sustain a national presidential campaign.

Nevertheless, anyone still entertaining such notions can be cured of them by reading The Great Revolt. The voters it depicts are responsible people who have worked their whole adult lives, not only to support themselves but also to support their families. Indeed, the importance and dignity of work is a recurring theme in the book, a common concern of voters across the various groups profiled. Some of these voters moved away from the Democratic Party out of a belief that it no longer supports working people but instead seeks to win votes by promising to give away things for free —an approach that one respondent noted is no way to make good people or a strong country.

The book also sheds interesting light on the much-debated question of identity politics. Trump has been accused of leading a movement of “white nationalism.” The Great Revolt provides no support for this slanderous charge. In exploring the minds of these voters, the question of race almost never arises. There are two notable exceptions. One white woman interviewed had adopted two African American children, both of whom had grown up to be United States Marines. Another expressed her disgust at being accused of racism for supporting Trump after she had twice voted for Barack Obama.

This is not to say, however, that there is no element of identity politics to be found in Trump’s coalition. What one finds, however, is less an identity of race and more an identity of place —a regional or geographic identity that its holders believe has been affronted by the country’s coastal and urban elites. One “Rotary reliable” noted that the work of all Americans contributes to the country, but that if you “live in a small or medium-size town” you “would think that we are dragging the country down. What we do here matters. We aren’t a country just made up of large metropolitan areas.”

The US Supreme Court in the 2016 Election

Perhaps most interesting to the student of law and politics, however, is the role that opinions about the Supreme Court played in the election. The evidence presented in The Great Revolt suggests that Trump was helped considerably by his promise to nominate conservative justices to the Supreme Court, a promise made more convincing by his bold stroke of putting out a list of specific names from which he pledged to draw his nominees. One might think that this plank of Trump’s platform was a necessary concession to locking down the traditionally conservative (Ted Cruz-supporting) voters that Trump needed in order to win both the Republican nomination and the general election. There is no doubt some truth in this view, but it is not the whole truth.

The survey and interviews conducted by Zito and Todd suggest that the Supreme Court was a surprisingly salient issue to voters beyond self-styled constitutional conservatives. Although these Great Lakes region voters ranked Trump’s promise to put conservative justices on the Court as third in importance among his campaign pledges, they tended to regard it as a weighty issue.


Perhaps this should not be surprising. Belief in popular self-government is deeply rooted in the American political psyche. Yet, over the past two or three generations, activist courts — often on the basis of debatable and novel interpretations of the Constitution — have been busily narrowing the bounds within which the American people are permitted to govern their country. We boast of being a democracy, but the people are not allowed to decide the definition of marriage or to prescribe a prayer for the beginning of the public school day. It was to be expected that this would produce a spirited response in a significant number of voters.

In addition, many Americans are conservative not ideologically but by disposition. That is, they are more or less satisfied with and even proud of their country. Such Americans would not welcome the Supreme Court’s increasing efforts to place itself in the vanguard of social progress—or, more accurately, of what liberals think is social progress but what many other Americans regard as [a] subversion of the country’s inherited culture and institutions.

Over the last fifty years, the American left has been willing to use the Supreme Court as the “bulldozer of its social engineering” — to borrow a typically vivid expression of Justice Antonin Scalia’s. Moreover, they seem to have thought that they could do this without risking any significant political backlash. Here they miscalculated. The ironic consequence of their miscalculation is the Trump presidency and a more conservative federal judiciary.

This returns us to the question: was Trump’s victory due to mere chance, or was it a result of deeper changes in the nation’s politics? The most prudent answer — here as in relation to most historical events — is that both answers contain an element of truth. Luck may have helped Trump to win, but he was in a position to win because the country’s ruling elites had misunderstood or ignored the concerns of a significant segment of the electorate. The Great Revolt suggests that those elites should move beyond lamenting the misfortune (to them) of Trump’s elevation to the presidency and ponder the mistakes on their part that made it possible.

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The NeverTrumpers and the Anti-Trumpers — whatever their socio-economic stratum — are held fast by a dark ideology. Are they even capable of “moving beyond” their bubble to ponder a wider perspective? So far, it doesn’t seem to be the case. However, here is one review from a leftist who actually bought the book:

As a lifelong progressive liberal, to say I was disappointed in the 2016 election would be a gross understatement. I was also deeply, deeply confused… OK, maybe rattled and depressed are more accurate descriptions. How on earth could such a thing have happened?!

But more than a progressive, I am an American, and I care deeply, as we all do, about the future of our country. That’s why this book is so essential. I believe it is vital that we seek to understand and not alienate one another. Zito and Todd [the authors] are proxies for the conversations I’d love to have with people whose life experiences are very different from my own. Were the sentiments sometimes hard to hear, much less empathize with? Of course. But, they, too, are Americans who care about our future, and I’m better for hearing their reasoning for why they voted as they did. Other reviewers have said that this is a great political book, and it is, but it resonated with me the way my favorite sociology classes did: providing true insight into sometimes overlooked parts of our society.

The people who “overlook parts of our society” can mostly be found in front of the cameras and microphones. That’s why this book is important: it’s a remedy for the silence of the coastal elites.

Here’s the book on Amazon.

21 thoughts on “Understanding Trump Voters: A Good Start

  1. The NeverTrumpers and the Anti-Trumpers — whatever their socio-economic stratum — are held fast by a dark ideology. Are they even capable of “moving beyond” their bubble to ponder a wider perspective? So far, it doesn’t seem to be the case.

    Obviously this book was written by and for Trump supporters who ignore Trump’s obviously limited mental capabilities, his anti-social behavior and his living outside the law for an entire lifetime. Without moral guideposts and overcome by his rampant solipsism, runaway lies and lawbreaking will surely continue as The Donald consistently and constantly finds new ways to take that which does not belong to him. He is incapable of change even as his lawbreaking is being exposed. Today’s news is his only reality as viewed egocentrically.

    Until the day comes when Trump is run out of Washington in favor of a lovely suite inside a high-walled prison, Trumpists will continue to be blind to his racketeering. Then and only then will you understand about NeverTrump goals.

    • It would be productive to realize that the change in sentiment that put Trump in office is about far more than the individual; Trump just happened to realize and exploit it before anyone else. If it wasn’t him, it would be someone like him with the same populist and nationalist message who would have eventually occupied the same office.

      And while you may find his behavior and speech repugnant, many of us out here in flyover country who have been on the receiving end of the benevolence of the coastal, globalist elites selling our inheritance for mountains of digital wealth, the man who can stick it right back to those gadflies of globalism is a hero and can do no wrong. As for me, as long as he continues to hold down the America-hating elites and kick them in the gonads as he confounds them and their sensitivities, I could care less what un-pc thing he says or which victim/special interest group he offends.

      • The elites can’t stand his common Queens NY accent or his penchant for covering everything with gold. It is literally his favorite “color”. Trump thinks the White House is an inconvenient mess compared to his own digs. Yes, he admits he loves its historicity, but the edifice itself is badly in need of work, in The Donald’s eyes. That’s why he escapes to his New Jersey club or his Florida estate.

        When he finishes office or is defeated, he’ll retire back to Trump Tower which has been his home for some years. My guess is that he doesn’t go there more often because it’s a security nightmare. Regular New Yorkers would be up in arms about the traffic snarls.

      • Very well said, Mr. Moon. I question any effort to debate a never Trumper type like herd gadfly. Then again, I’ve done it countless times over the last 60 years. Stay strong.

      • Oh, Moon — a Harsh Mistress … if only Gates of Vienna had “Like” icons that I could hit, twenty times, to endorse your view !

    • You might consider downloading a free sample of the book to meet the authors and their methodology and their decision to focus on the people who were staunch Dems before turning to Trump in desperation.

      The Trump voters aren’t blind to his many faults; those character deficits have been gone over in fine detail by the MSM for many years prior to his entry into politics. Those voters well know that a person doesn’t operate in the world of Atlantic City casinos or NYC building contractors without getting fleas. That they voted for him anyway was an indication of their fatigue with politics as usual, where the players are every bit as venal as Trump and then some. To believe that he will eventually be “run out of Washington” is to misunderstand the sentiments of small-town America.

      His voter base likes the fact that he’s working without salary, and that he refuses to play nice with those inside the Beltway bubble.

      Trump may or may not run again in 2020 – he’s a restless soul, so it’s hard to say. But events like the on-going character assassination of his Supreme Court picks will not sit well with average Americans who want a seat and voice in the public square.

    • “Trump supporters who ignore Trump’s obviously limited mental capabilities”


      We can entertain your statement as one hypothesis.

      Then we can use the Scientific Method and come up with an alternative hypothesis, “Donald Trump is a very stable genius who is misunderstood thanks to the Dunning-Kruger Effect”.

      Which one is falsified by the evidence, such as :
      * defeat 16 accomplished and experienced challengers in the GOP primaries
      * defeat a household political name with over 1 Billion dollars to spend
      * win an election with overwhelming Fake News arrayed against him
      * win an election despite a checkered and well-known past
      * gain the votes of the ‘racists’ who voted for Obama twice.

      If you use the Scientific Method you will discover it is not the President who has “limited mental capabilities”.

      It appears you are unable to see what half the country can. That’s ok, Dilbert inventor calls this “Two Movies playing on One Screen”. You are choosing to process the same information differently – but the resulting construct is further from reality than the other half of the country. That is why you are having an emotional, irrational, and daresay unhealthy reaction on a daily basis.

      You’ll have to excuse the rest of us while we dine on schadenfreude. It is the reaction of the Free People the Left has bullied for decades.

      • Well said. And why I quit reading the soi-disant “conservatives” who were glad to take his money (he contributed to both parties) but didn’t want him at the White House even if it meant living under Hillary.

        I’m still ABC: Anyone But Clinton.

      • Wonderful response, Anonymous. This is why I stick with Gates of Vienna … the very intelligent and sane responses of the posters drive off the glib, the insane and the trolls in short order, sparing the moderators hours and hours of work, and make the overall reading experience so much more enjoyable and educational for the rest of us. Thank you.

    • Oh, yes, of course, herdgadfly … we all know the Wharton School is one of the easiest schools in the country to get into ! They only take the mentally defective, … who then go on to run so many of the Fortune 500.

  2. The Left never fail to surprise me with their arrogance and ignorance of Humanity and natural Law. They delude themselves and then force others to comply. The same with Islam and why it and Communism are so unnecessarily violent in order to compel their victims and followers to follow their idiocy. In 200 plus years Communism and Socialism have failed time and again. The same with Islam for 1400 years and 350,000,000 deaths- It is still failing and threatens with death its sad followers terrified of the Truth of Christ and Christianity. The latter is one hundred times more successful than the former ideologies. The Catholic Church failed because it was cruel to its questioners but nothing like on the scale of Communism and Islam. As a “liberal” Old l Catholic Bishop, I preach “Intelligent Christianity” based upon human nature and Reality and the kindness of the latter if fully understood and complied with.

    Men and women are different and have different roles in society. Peoples, cultures and even races are different from one another in abilities, state of advance but also intelligence. Those that try to foist fake “equality” and “gender” are guilty of the most heinous of crimes against Humanity. Those that push these horrid cruel agendas must be resisted at all costs and their evil exposed.

  3. The “USA Progressive Elite” were victims of their own reliance on Internet feeds and a false belief that the Internet and MSM world was truth, when it was far and away a fantasy. They were fooled into believing their own Bubble like “Surreality”. Westminster, Paris and Berlin are just the same. Merkel, Macron and May prate on about “Far Right”, “Populism” and the threat it “presents” to their Globalist aims.Theresa May has especially not learned from the Trump Miracle. It was no “miracle” at all but a simple desire by normal folk for the traditional and populations tired and sick to death of being called names and seeing alien cultures and ideas foisted upon them by such arrogance elitists.

    They are not really an “Elite” at all but a rag-bag assortment of weirdos and plase-seekers drunk and saturated into the above “Surreality”. They are drowned in their own amoral wilderness where bad became good and the sweet biter. People are at base decent and good at heart.

    Ordinary folk are not stupid nor “deplorable” but when lunatics rave on about “Spirit cooking”, or pray to Satan before town meetings while disparaging their “normie” voters, the result is to be expected in a populace tired of the weird. For myself it was “trannies” being pushed at nursery school.

    For God’s sake! What has “gender fluidity” and perversion to do with tiny tots? “Liberalism” is nothing of the sort but license to entertain the perverse and Satanic. Utter madness. That is why Trump won. Isaiah 5.20 “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”

    • We don’t always agree, Bishop, but I’m happy to second much of your comment, especially as it relates to “populism”, which is simply (?) the people exercising their democratic prerogative. I don’t endorse everything Trump is doing, especially on environmental protection, but unless he starts rounding up Jews (or any minority) for incarceration or worse, the Left in the US should stop plotting and find a more congenial candidate than Clinton or Sanders.

      • If you looked at the bloated Environmental Protection Agency, pre-Trump, you’d see it needed to be cut. Laws are passed by Congress and only then are government agencies supposed to carry out the specifics of those laws. Our permanent bureaucracy are laws unto themselves and the EPA cost billions in productivity with their own generated rules:


  4. Thanks for the link to this! I had not previously seen mention of this book but it’s on my radar now.

  5. I am a Trump supporter who doesn’t fit the profile at all. I wonder how many others of us are out there?

    Born into the crux of NYC left liberalism, it was the default position for those around me. A child of the sixties, I did all the stuff you were supposed to do but unenthusiastically. Where I came from there was no other option. I went through the motions for most of my adult life until the penny dropped in the mid 90’s. I studied, I read, I digested. It was the disgusting Stockholm Syndrome that emerged in the media after 9/11 that finally radicalized me. My path is strewn with people who won’t speak to me because I am a deplorable, and it can be lonely, but I wouldn’t go back to the blue pill world even if it were possible. Now I am engaged with the present, with what is happening in our world whereas before I was just putting up with things, not engaging, not caring.

    Trump may be uncouth, and a scoundrel but who else could deal effectively with the Deep State?

    • Trump may be uncouth, and a scoundrel but who else could deal effectively with the Deep State?

      The Swamp is filled with couth scoundrels.

        • Reminds me of PG Wodehouse: “While not disgruntled, he was certainly far from gruntled”.

          Imagine Wodehouse and Lewis Carroll, in the afterlife, playing with the English language; I’d pay the admission fee to hear that!

  6. This book is an excellent read. Well worth twice the asking price($28us, $37 can.) The authors understand the people to whom they listened.

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