Will the Post-Trump GOP Be Nationalist and Populist?

This new Pew study I noted only in passing yesterday (because it dropped after the first draft of the post was written) suggests that nationalism and populism may be the new hotness in Pres. Trump’s GOP, but may struggle without him.

Based on surveys of more than 5,000 adults conducted over the summer, Pew sought to develop typographies for the Republican and Democratic coalitions.  The GOP side breaks down into: Core Conservatives (13% of adults/20% of the politically engaged); Country First Conservatives (6%/6%); Market Skeptic Republicans (12%/10%); and New Era Enterprisers (11%/9%).  RTWT, though the labels do a fair job of conveying the demographics.

The first notable finding concerns Trump’s approval rating among these groups: Core Conservatives (93%); Country Firsters (84%); Market Skeptics (66%); Enterprisers (63%).

The Core having a higher approval of Trump than the Country Firsters may seem counter-intuitive.  The study indicates that the Core favors U.S. involvement in the global economy much more than Country Firsters do (68% vs 39%).  Also, the Core is much less likely to think immigrants burden our economy than Country Firsters do (43% vs 76%).

The explanation likely can be found in the Country Firsters “are older and less educated than other Republican-leaning typology groups.”  Political scientists will tell you (as in this study) that partisanship (GOP and Dem alike) increases with education.

This is significant because the data from the 2016 election suggested that education was a key factor in determining support for Trump within the GOP.  I don’t want to suggest that the high Trump support from the Core is all about partisanship — after all, Trump is delivering on some conservative priorities.  But the Pew data suggests that it is probably Trump’s partisanship and his conservative achievements (rather than his more populist and nationalist positions on immigration and trade) which drive the 93% approval rating.

Even here, I don’t want to overstate this point; 43% of the Core thinks immigrants are a burden on the economy, while only 39% believe they strengthen the country with their hard work and talents.

However, it is fair to say that Trump aimed his campaign rhetoric more at the Country Firsters and Market Skeptics and a bit less at the Core than any of his rivals did.  Yet the Country Firsters approve less of Trump than the Core, while the Market Skeptics approve significantly less than even the Country Firsters.  The Skeptics’ lower level of support may be due to Trump’s regulatory rollback and his support for the more traditional tax and healthcare proposals coming from Congress, though they’re also more pro-immigrant than the Firsters. (The Enterprisers are business-friendly, but young, more diverse, and non-Trumpy.)

In short, the study implies that the two Trumpiest factions in the GOP coalition are less partisan than the Core, which is disproportionately engaged in politics.  Trump also may be constrained in his ability to try to bring what should be his key demos into greater engagement within the GOP.  He needs to retain support from the Core (although partisanship is a form of identity politics these days).  And he has to work or contend with a GOP Congress that is — for now, anyway — more like the Core.

These are some of the cross-currents within the GOP coalition that work against a makeover into a predominantly nationalist or populist party.  Once the dominant, compelling figure of Trump finally walks offstage to “You Can’t Always get What You Want,” his coalition may be difficult to maintain.  In addition, the actuarial tables might cause one to speculate that Country Firsters may be less of a factor four or eight years from now, while the immigrant-friendly, non-Trumpy Enterprisers may be more of one.

Nevertheless, given that the Core currently narrowly disfavors immigration, one can imagine (as I did yesterday) the establishment having to adjust a notch or two in the Trumpian direction on that issue…  unless Trump’s administration is judged a failure, which (as noted yesterday) cannot be ruled out.

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