New Initiative Explores Deep, Persistent Divides Between Biden and Trump Voters
A Commentary By UVA Center for Politics
UVA Center for Politics and Project Home Fire use innovative polling and data analytics to identify America’s political fissures, and explain ways to foster compromise.
The University of Virginia Center for Politics has partnered with Project Home Fire, a new initiative dedicated to finding common ground in American politics, on an innovative new data analytics and polling project to explore the social, political, and psychological divides between those who voted for Donald Trump and those who voted for Joe Biden in 2020.
Some of the key takeaways from today’s release are:
— Majorities of Trump and Biden voters express support for several elements of the bipartisan infrastructure and reconciliation bills being debated in Congress, but there are marked differences in their levels of support. (see Table 1 below)
— Majorities — often large majorities — of both Biden and Trump voters express some form of distrust for voters, elected officials, and media sources they associate with the other side. A strong majority of Trump voters see no real difference between Democrats and socialists, and a majority of Biden voters at least somewhat agree that there is no real difference between Republicans and fascists. (see Table 2 below)
— Significant numbers of both Trump and Biden voters show a willingness to consider violating democratic tendencies and norms if needed to serve their priorities. Roughly 2 in 10 Trump and Biden voters strongly agree it would be better if a “President could take needed actions without being constrained by Congress or courts,” and roughly 4 in 10 (41%) of Biden and half (52%) of Trump voters at least somewhat agree that it’s time to split the country, favoring blue/red states seceding from the union. (see Table 3 below)
The Center for Politics and Project Home Fire will be releasing findings from this study in the coming weeks through a series of articles in Sabato’s Crystal Ball and other publications, as well as public symposiums that will each explore major, divisive subjects in American life. Those topics include: immigration, political violence, pandemic response, and other prominent national issues.
From July 22 to Aug. 4, 2021, Project Home Fire worked with InnovateMR, an industry-leading top 20 marketing research data collection firm, to capture online responses to more than 300 questions spanning social, political, and psychological topics from 1,001 Donald Trump presidential election voters and 1,011 Joe Biden voters (N=2,012), with a margin of error of +/- 2.2 percentage points.
As part of this study, the Center for Politics and Project Home Fire will provide information not just about the divides between Biden and Trump voters, but also which kinds of voters in both camps are most open to finding common ground and which kinds of messages stand the best chance of spurring compromise.
“The divide between Trump and Biden voters is deep, wide, and dangerous. The scope is unprecedented, and it will not be easily fixed,” said UVA Center for Politics Director Larry J. Sabato.
“In order to figure out ways to bridge these divides, we need to understand not just the divides themselves, but also understand the ways in which we can, together, move forward to reach common ground. This project helps us do both,” said Larry Schack of Project Home Fire.
Trump and Biden voters are at crisis stage
Policy-wise, Biden and Trump voters do express some commonalities. As an example, and thinking about some of the aspects of the infrastructure and reconciliation bills currently being debated in Congress, only two garner less than 50% support from Trump voters: legislation supporting unions through banning “right-to-work” laws and safeguarding union elections (42% of Trump voters express support), and making community college free for all Americans (43% of Trump voters express support). In other words, majorities of Biden and Trump voters express support for several other elements of the infrastructure and reconciliation bills currently being debated in Congress, although Biden voters express stronger support for these issue statements than Trump voters do. Table 1 shows these findings.
Table 1: Center for Politics/Project Home Fire poll findings on Biden/Trump voter support for various issues being debated as part of bipartisan infrastructure and reconciliation bill negotiations
Note: For the statements listed in Table 1, respondents were asked how much they agreed or disagreed with the statement on a 0-100 point scale (0 was categorized as disagreeing completely, 1-25 means strongly disagreeing, 26-50 was disagreeing somewhat, 51-75 was agreeing somewhat, 76-99 was strongly agreeing, and 100 was agreeing completely). So the percentage of people who at least somewhat agreed with the statement selected 51 or above on the scale for the given statement, and the percentage of those who at least strongly agreed selected 76 or above.
In the study, the idea that the “government should work for people” surfaces as a potential compromise corridor for starting a conversation and finding common ground. The opportunity is to leverage this consensus to realize the positive change and action many Trump and Biden voters want.
But these positives are offset by the fact that Biden and Trump voters do not see how working with the other side fits into a bigger picture or translates into benefits for them. If anything, they view compromise as contrary their own priorities. They are convinced that the other side is pursuing an agenda that is contrary to their interests, principles, and values. They are convinced they will suffer personally if the other side has their way, despite the fact that many Biden and Trump voters want many of the same things from government.
Illustrating the extent of the underlying divide, nearly 90% of voters on both sides agree that people like them won’t belong in America anymore if the “other side” has its way, and more than 1 in 5 say they “agree completely” that such is the case.
Table 2 shows a series of questions in which majorities — often large majorities — of both Biden and Trump voters express some form of distrust for voters, elected officials, and media sources they associate with the other side. That includes about three-quarters of both Biden and Trump voters expressing support for censoring extreme media on the left (Trump voters) or right (Biden voters), as well as more than three-quarters of each side’s voters believing elected officials from the other side represent a clear and present danger to American democracy.
Table 2: Poll findings on fear and distrust among Biden and Trump voters
Note: The same 0-100 point scale described in the note under Table 1 is also used here.
Many Trump and Biden voters believe the deck is stacked against them, and their commitment to democracy is wavering
Widespread disillusionment with the other side, and perceptions of a system that is rigged to favor the wealthy and powerful, has undermined faith in our representative democracy:
— On one hand, roughly 80% of Trump and Biden voters view democracy as preferable to any non-democratic kind of government.
— On the other hand, more than 6 in 10 Trump and Biden voters see America as less a representative democracy and more a system that is run by and rigged for the benefit of the wealthy.
— Overall, more than two-thirds support — and one-third strongly — emboldening and empowering strong leaders and taking the law into their own hands when it comes to dealing with people or groups they view as dangerous.
— And their willingness to consider violating democratic tendencies and norms extends beyond the hypothetical and to a dangerous and alarming finding: Roughly 2 in 10 Trump and Biden voters — or more than 31 million Americans — strongly agree it would be better if a “President could take needed actions without being constrained by Congress or courts” (as extrapolated from the results of this survey). Roughly 4 in 10 (41%) of Biden and half (52%) of Trump voters at least somewhat agree that it’s time to split the country, favoring blue/red states seceding from the union.
Table 3: Center for Politics/Project Home Fire poll findings on commitment to democracy among Biden and Trump voters
Note: The same 0-100 point scale described in the note under Table 1 is also used here.
How this project will address this divide
To achieve understanding that can empower effective compromise, deeper insights into the political and social-psychological motivations that animate each side of the political spectrum are needed. Toward those ends, this Center for Politics/Project Home Fire study aims to:
— Provide a deeper understanding of the dangerous divide that threatens America’s pursuit of universally representative democracy.
— Uncover the politically and psychologically motivated “compromise receptive” subgroups that exist among Biden and Trump voters.
— Identify compromise corridors (the policy and issue areas both Biden and Trump voters care about) and compromise clusters (those groups of compromise receptive Biden and Trump voters who both care about a particular policy or issue area and express less dissimilar opinions).
— Reveal the specific pathways to persuade Americans on both sides of the divide to open their minds to mutually beneficial compromise that accrues to the bigger goal of preserving, protecting, and expanding America’s universally representative democracy.
“Our hope is that, by employing the tools of modern behavioral science, Project Home Fire can develop a deep, data-driven understanding of the fears and concerns animating the increasingly dangerous political and cultural divide in America. The first step toward effectively solving a problem is to accurately understand its causes and we believe Project Home Fire can provide such understanding,” said Robert “Mick” McWilliams of Project Home Fire.
“The logical conclusion then, is that it is in the long-term interest of the country to pursue a series of strategies and tactics that encourage bridge-building and constructive dialogue and re-affirm America’s reputation as the world’s leading representative democracy. Simply put — we need a real plan to heal our fractured democracy. In our research, we have uncovered some pathways to help do that,” said Project Home Fire’s Larry Schack.
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About the UVA Center for Politics
Founded by Professor Larry J. Sabato, the Center for Politics has established annual conferences, publications, programs, and curricula to advance democracy around the world and to equip people to better understand politics and government. The Center has worked to educate and inspire our citizenry about practical politics and civic engagement through programs that are unique, compelling, and open-minded — including producing four Emmy-winning documentaries.
About Project Home Fire
Project Home Fire is the brainchild of Drs. Robert “Mick” McWilliams and Larry Schack, co-founders with Jerry Howard of Predictive Branding Partners (www.predictivebrandingpartners.com), the only brand strategy practice that is predictive of customer behavior. Deeply passionate about finding solutions to the precarious state of American Democracy, Mick and Larry are uniquely positioned to translate the proven Predictive BrandingTM approach to one of the most pressing issues of our time, by bringing a fresh and non-partisan perspective grounded in cutting-edge predictive analytics and real-world insight.
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