Explaining Trump’s Base Support

Donald Trump continues to be unpopular with voters, in general.  However, his base overwhelmingly supports him.  Why?

According to Five Thirty Eight, 52 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Trump is doing while 42 percent approve of his performance.  (A ten-point gap that has held steady for a month.)  Nonetheless, the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll finds a stark difference of opinion between Trump voters and everyone else: 94 percent of Trump voters approve of his performance, 92 percent of Clinton voters disapprove, and 62 percent of other or non-voters disapprove.

There are three explanations for the rabid support Trump gets from his base.  The first is political, the Trump voters don’t have another choice; they don’t see any other politician they prefer to Trump.  The Washington Post/ABC News poll asked voters who was to blame for Trump’s lack of accomplishments in his first 100 days in office.  Trump voters felt this was due to the obstruction of congressional Democrats.  On the other hand, Clinton voters felt that the lack of accomplishments was Trump’s fault.

The typical perspective of Trump voters is, “Give him a chance to show what he can do.”  Trump hasn’t repealed Obamacare or built the border wall or kept Muslims from entering the U.S., but these failures are dwarfed by what appears to be a strong economy.  Trump claims to have created 500,000 jobs (but overall economic growth is a tepid .7 percent).

From a political perspective, Trump voters aren’t going to desert him until the economy stalls.

There’s also a sociological reason why Trump voters are “standing by their man.”  Trump has fashioned a narrative where he is the most reliable source of information.  When Trump says things like, “We’ve accomplished more in 100 days than any previous Administration,” it’s laughed at by the mainstream media but accepted as truth by Trump voters.

Roughly one-third of Trump’s April 29 Harrisburg speech was spent attacking the press.  “Media outlets like CNN and MSNBC are fake news…They’re incompetent, dishonest people, who, after [the] election had to apologize…the media deserves a very, very, big fat failing grade.”

The next third of the speech was spent lauding Trump’s accomplishments: “For decades, our country has lived through the greatest jobs theft in the history of the world…[the media won’t report this because] they’re all part of a broken system that profited this global theft… We’ve delivered 100 days of action.”

The final third of the speech was about the “threat” of illegal immigrants. the audience called out, “Build the wall!” and Trump promised he would.  He said, “The last, very weak administration allowed thousands and thousands of gang members to cross our border and enter into our communities where they wreaked havoc on our citizens.”

Trump voters buy this narrative because they identify with Trump and trust him; most of their associates share this sentiment.

Finally, there’s a psychological reason why Trump voters continue to support him: they are trapped in an abusive “system.”  These voters suffer from a version of Stockholm syndrome where prisoners “develop a psychological alliance with their captors as a survival strategy.”

After the election, many polls noted that Trump supporters voted for him because they believe it to be their last chance to save the country and to regain power over their lives.

In her landmark study, “Stranger in their own Land,”  sociologist Arlie Hochschild detailed the shared narrative, “deep story,” of many  Trump voters: “You are standing in a long line leading up a hill…  You are situated in the middle of this line, along with others who are also white, older, Christian, and predominantly male… Just over the brow of the hill is the American Dream, the goal of everyone waiting in line.  Most in the back of the line are people of color… Look!  You see people cutting in line ahead of you!  You’re following the rules.  They aren’t.  As they cut in, it feels like you are being moved back… Who are they?  Women, immigrants, refugees, public sector workers — where will it end?”  Hochschild explained, “[Trump voters] felt that the deep story was their real story and that there was a false PC over-up of that story… So it was with joyous belief that many heard a Donald Trump who seemed to be wildly, omnipotently, magically free of all PC constraint.” Trump made them feel okay about themselves.

Hochschild observed, “Underlying all these other bases of honor — in work, region, state, family life, and church — was pride in the self of the deep story… What seemed like a problem to liberals — the fact that conservatives identify ‘up,’ with the 1 percent — was actually a source of pride to the [Trump voters] I got to know.” Trump voters admire Donald.

A recent Time magazine article (http://time.com/3309687/why-women-stay-in-abusive-relationships/), about why women stay in abusive relationships, observed: “Research also shows that abusers are drawn to people who already feel powerless in other aspects of their life. These people question their own worth and thus do not consider whether their needs are being met. Predators build up the victim’s self-esteem before introducing the abuse.”  This explains the relationship between Trump and his supporters.

Donald Trump is an abuser.  He’s found an audience with millions of American who feel powerless.  Now, he’s getting ready to abuse them by taking away their healthcare, polluting their air and water, and reducing public services.

What will take for Trump voters to realize they have been fooled?