Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a “Make America Great Again Rally.” (Credit: Getty/Alex Wong)
This article originally appeared on the Niskanen Center website. Republished by permission.
Heading into the midterm elections, it’s pretty clear that a blue wave is coming. But is the shellacking the GOP is likely to take in November a sign that Donald Trump, and his brand of ethno-nationalist populism, will soon be on the way out? While many pundits (at least, those who aren’t making appearances on Fox News) are leaning that way, political scientists tell us not to count on it.
First of all, the party represented by first-term presidents almost always takes a beating in the midterms. And those beatings have not served as reliable indicators for what is to come. Republicans were creamed in 1982, but Ronald Reagan won an historic landslide in 1984. Democrats were slaughtered in 1994, yet Bill Clinton went on to win decisively in 1996. Democrats were decimated in 2010, but Barack Obama broke little sweat in winning again in 2012. Republicans won’t be wrong to dismiss a blue wave in November as saying little about Donald Trump’s prospects in 2020.
And that’s particularly the case if we look at the underlying ideological and partisan sentiments of Republican and Democratic voters. Larry Bartels of Vanderbilt University did just that in a revealing working paper titled “Partisanship in the Trump Era,” released last month. In it, Bartels closely examined a November 2017 YouGov survey of 2,000 people, all of whom were originally interviewed in 2015 and 2016 as part of YouGov’s 2016 Cooperative Campaign Analysis Project. After putting all three of those survey findings through rigorous regression analyses, a great deal of conventional wisdom about what’s going on in the Republican Party was blown to bits:
1) Donald Trump has not remade the Republican Party in his own image. That’s both good and bad news for NeverTrumpers. There is no evidence whatsoever that party demographics or political views have changed significantly since he came on the political scene in 2015. To whatever extent the party has changed (e.g., the migration of working-class whites into the GOP), that change occurred before Donald Trump. Accordingly, if you wish to cast blame on what the Republican Party has become of late, blame probably lies with the strident Republican backlash to Barack Obama and the right-wing media apparatus, not with Donald Trump.
2) Contrary to what we’ve seen in some other recently published surveys, Bartels finds only a tiny change in the number of voters who identify with the Republican Party as a consequence of Donald Trump. The oft-searched-for migration of voters out of the GOP is extremely difficult to spot.
3) Those very few Republicans who have left the party since Trump came along are no better educated than those who have remained. They also aren’t especially averse to racially charged cultural appeals, are not particularly engaged in politics, and were not significantly more negative toward Trump, relative to those who have …read more