After the election, I decided to talk to 100 Trump voters from around
the country. I went to the middle of the
country, the middle of the state, and talked to many online.
This was a surprisingly interesting and helpful experience—I highly
recommend it. With three exceptions, I
found something to like about everyone I talked to (though I strongly disagreed with many of the things
Although it shouldn’t have surprised me given the voting data, I was
definitely surprised by the diversity of the people I spoke to—I did not expect
to talk to so many Muslims, Mexicans, Black people, and women in the course of
Almost everyone I asked was willing to talk to me, but almost none of
them wanted me to use their names—even people from very red states were worried
about getting “targeted by those people in Silicon Valley if they knew I voted
for him”. One person in Silicon Valley
even asked me to sign a confidentiality agreement before she would talk to me,
as she worried she’d lose her job if people at her company knew she was a
strong Trump supporter.
I wanted to understand what Trump voters liked and didn’t like about
the president, what they were nervous about, what they thought about the left’s
response so far, and most importantly, what would convince them not to vote for
him in the future.
Obviously, this is not a poll, and not ‘data’. But I think narratives are really important.
Here’s what I heard.
The TL;DR quote is this:
“You all can defeat Trump next time, but not if you keep mocking us,
refusing to listen to us, and cutting us out.
It’s Republicans, not Democrats, who will take Trump down.”
What do you
like about Trump?
“He is not
politically correct.” Note: This sentiment came up a lot, probably in
at least a third of the conversations I had.
“He says true but
unpopular things. If you can’t talk
about problems, you can’t fix them.”
“I'm a Jewish
libertarian who's [sic] grandparents
were Holocaust survivors. Over the last
few years the mainstream left has resorted to name-calling and character
assassination, instead of debate, any time their positions are questioned. This atmosphere became extremely oppressive
and threatening to people, like myself, who disagreed with many of Obama's
policies over the past several years. Intelligent
debate has become rare.”
“It's a lot like
political discussion was in Soviet Union, actually. I think the inability to acknowledge obvious
truths, and the ever-increasing scope of these restrictions makes it
particularly frustrating. And
personally, for whatever reason, I find inability to have more subtle
discussion very frustrating--things are not white or black, but you can't talk
about greys since the politically correct answer is white.”
“He is anti-abortion.” Note: This
sentiment came up a lot. A number of
people I spoke to said they didn’t care about anything else he did and would
always vote for whichever candidate was more anti-abortion.
“I like that he puts the
interests of Americans first. American
policy needs to be made from a position of how Americans benefit from it, as
that is the role of government.”
“He is anti-immigration.” Note: This
sentiment came up a lot. The most
surprising takeaway for me how little it seemed to be driven by economic
concerns, and how much it was driven by fears about “losing our culture”,
“safety”, “community”, and a general Us-vs.-Them mentality.
“He will preserve
our culture. Preservation of culture is
considered good in most cases. What’s
wrong with preserving the good parts of American culture?”
“He’s not Hillary Clinton.”
“I’m Mexican. I support the wall. The people who have stayed have destroyed
Mexico, and now they want to get out and cause damage here. We need to protect our borders, but now any
policy is like that is called racist.
Trump was the first person willing to say that out loud.”
“I am socially very
liberal. I am fiscally very
conservative. I don't feel I have a
party--never have. I grew up in a more
socially conservative time and picked the "lesser of two evils"
during elections. Now, the more socially
liberal side supports bigger governments, more aid and support and that money
has to come from somewhere. I see
what's deducted from my check each week.
I'm OK with never being rich but I'd like more security and that
doesn't come from more government spending.”
“We need borders at every
level of our society.”
“I’m willing to postpone some further social justice progress, which
doesn’t really result in loss of life, in favor of less foreign policy
involvement, the opposite of which does."
“Brown people are
always the out-crowd. I think
subconsciously, part of the reason I supported him was a way to be in the
in-crowd for once.”
you like about him?
“The way he talks about women is despicable.”
“Everything about his style. We
only voted for him because this election was too important to worry about
“I don’t like most things about him.
The way it worked is we got to choose one of two terrible options.”
“I think our
nation needs Trumpism to survive long term, and to me that supersedes almost
every other reservation I have. My issue
is with Trump himself--I think he's the wrong vessel for his movement, but he's
all we've got so I'm behind him.”
“I think the
rollout of the immigration executive order is emblematic of a clusterfuck, to
be completely frank.”
“I now believe the
Muslim ban actually makes us less safe.”
protectionism at this point is insane. We've done that before.”
“I, too, worry about the
dishonesty. His relationship with
Russia, his relationship with women. His
relationship with questionable financial matters. These all worry me and were they to continue
I would lose all respect.”
“He continually plays into a character that he has created
to rile his fan base. Accepting anti-semitism, white nationalism, or hate
emanating unnecessarily, creates a vacuum of fear on social media, on
television, and around the dinner table.
Even though the policies may be similar to that of any recent Republican
President, the behavior to act so immaturely sets a bad example for children
and undercuts many cultural norms, which more than anything causes disruption
to our sociological foundations.”
“I hate that he discredits
the press all the time. That seems to
forebode great evil.”
you nervous about with Trump as president?
“The thing I’m most worried about is war, and that he could destroy
the whole world. I think I may have
underestimated that risk, because he is more of an alpha strongman that I
realized when I voted for him. Otherwise
I still like him.” Note: Most
people weren’t that worried about war.
More frequent comments were along these lines:
“I know he’s taking strong positions on certain foreign issues, but I feel in
negotiations you need to do things to move the needle and when a whole country
is watching its hard to keep a poker face, but at least his business track
record overall gives us reason to believe ultimately stability will prevail.”
“He’s crazy, but
it’s a tactic to get other nations not to mess with us.”
“I worry he will drive us apart as a nation. I believed him when he said that would stop
with the campaign, but I haven’t seen signs of it so far.”
“I am nervous that his mental health is actually bad.”
“I worry he is actually going to roll back social change we’ve fought
so hard for. But I hope not.”
What do you
think about the left’s response so far?
“You need to give us an opportunity to admit we may have been wrong
without saying we’re bad people. I am
already thinking I made a mistake, but I feel ostracized from my community.”
“The left is more intolerant than the right.” Note: This
concept came up a lot, with real animosity in otherwise pleasant conversations.
“Stop calling us racists. Stop
calling us idiots. We aren’t. Listen to us when we try to tell you why we
aren’t. Oh, and stop making fun of us.”
“I’d love to see one-tenth of the outrage about the state of our lives
out here that you have for Muslims from another country. You have no idea what our lives are like.”
“I’m so tired of hearing about white privilege. I’m white, but way less privileged than a
black person from your world. I have no
hope my life will ever get any better.”
“I am tired
of feeling silenced and demonized. We
have mostly the same goals, and different opinions about how to get there. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe you’re wrong. But enough with calling all of us the devil
for wanting to try Trump. I hate Hillary
and think she wants to destroy the country of us but I don’t demonize her
“I’m angry that they’re so outraged now, but were never outraged over
an existing terrible system.”
“The attacks against Trump
have taught me something about myself. I have defended him and said things I
really didn't believe or support because I was put in a defensive position.
Protesters may have pushed many people in this direction BUT it is ultimately
our responsibility and must stop.”
“I'd like to also add that the demonization of
Trump by calling him and his supporters: Nazis, KKK, white supremacists,
fascists, etc. works very well in entrenching Trump supporters on his side. These attacks are counter-factual and in my
opinion very helpful to Trump.”
“So far his election has
driven our nation apart. So far I see
most of the divisiveness coming from the left.
Shame on them. I don't see it
quite as bad as during Nixon's era but we are truly headed in that
direction. I could not speak with my
parents during that time because political division would intrude. This Thanksgiving and holiday season were as
close as I've felt to that in 40 years.
We are increasingly polarized. It
doesn't seem to be strictly generational, though that exists. There is an east coast-west coast, rural vs.
urban, racial, and gender division forming now.
It has the potential to be devastating.”
amount of violent attacks and economic attacks perpetrated by the left
are troublesome. My wife and I
recently moved to the Bay Area. I
was expecting a place which was a welcoming meritocracy of ideas. Instead, I found a place where everyone
constantly watches everyone else for any thoughtcrime.”
“Silicon Valley is
incredibly unwelcoming to alternative points of view. Your curiosity, if it is sincere, is the very
rare exception to the rule.”
“There is something
hypocritical about the left saying the are uniters not dividers, they are
inclusive and then excluding half the population with comments on intelligence
and irrelevance in the modern world.”
convince you not to vote for him again?
“War would be unforgivable.”
“If the Russia thing were true, I’d turn against him. Why don’t y’all focus on that instead of his
“Give us a better option, and we’ll be happy. But it needs to be a moderate—Sanders won’t
“I’ll happily vote for someone else.
There’s a lot I hate about Trump.
But our lives are basically destroyed, and he was the first person to
talk about fixing that.”
“Generally hard to say. Extreme
corruption would do it.”
person in the same conversation: “I don’t care if he’s corrupt. Y’all voted for Hillary and she was the most
corrupt candidate of all time.”
“Another worry is
an escalation of overreaches between him and the left that culminates in the
breakdown of our system of law. I'd hold
him responsible for that.”
“If he were to get
the US involved in a major military conflict (I think the odds of this have
actually decreased versus Hillary, but I'm willing to be proven wrong). If he
were to substantially increase the cost of doing business (by increasing
regulation or taxes for instance).”
“I'm socially very
liberal. If he were to do something like restart a war on drugs, try to
restrict rights of LGBT, or make first trimester abortions difficult or
dangerous, I'd rethink my position. I
think these type of things are extremely unlikely though, especially with an
election a few years away the country as a whole becoming more socially
“I think if 2008
happened again (further into Trump's tenure, so that causation can be shown,
hypothetically), the base would evaporate.”
“Based on Trump's
history before politics I don't believe he is racist, sexist, homophobic or
bigoted. If that were true it would
supersede everything else since it would be even worse for individual liberty
and freedom than any freedom of speech restrictions or increases in government
size proposed by the Democratic Party.”