In an Election Night Poll of 800 actual voters conducted by Public Opinion Strategies last night we asked voters whether they agree or disagree with the following statement:
“The economic and political systems in the country are stacked against people like me.”
Voters were pretty split with 50% agreeing and 45% disagreeing with this statement. That result was not too surprising. Majorities of voters have agreed with this statement in NBC/WSJ polling going back to 2012. Before that, majorities have agreed sporadically across over two decades of NBC/WSJ tracking this same question.
But, it’s what the data looked like by party that provides a clear and compelling answer to a question many are asking “what just happened?”
On election night, more Republicans, 57%, than Democrats, 42%, agreed that the economic and political systems in the country are stacked against people like them.
This is the answer because this populist sentiment is traditionally a Democratic and liberal one. It’s something that you would be just as likely to hear at a Bernie Sanders rally or find woven into a speech delivered by Former President Bill Clinton in the 90’s – “I feel your pain.”
It is a sentiment that has consistently and strongly resonated, understandably, with African-Americans, the less well-educated, and lower income households. Whites and better-off Americans have traditionally disagreed. And, largely these race and class divisions in America still exist!
But, even as 64% of African-Americans continued to believe the “system was stacked against them” compared to just 47% of Whites overall, on election night 2016, there was an ideological realignment. Among Conservative Republican voters, 60% agreed the “system was stacked against people like them” while only 42% of Moderate and Liberal Democrats (and 32% of White Democrats) did. A majority (57%) of Independents, importantly, also agree.
The result: Trump won the “stacked against me” voters 52% to Hillary Clinton’s 35%.
As the graphic below shows, this sort of populist swelling in the Republican Party has happened before, and has always been followed by notably positive electoral results:
- In the summer of 1994 before Speaker Gingrich’s Contract with America gave Republicans and control of the House 46% of Republicans agreed the system was “stacked against” them, compared to just 41% of Democrats.
- And, in the summer of 2010 as the Tea Party Movement rose up and delivered a huge GOP wave, 50% of Republicans and 43% of Democrats agreed with this statement.
- Since 2010, Republican majority agreement with this only faltered slightly once, dipping to 49% in August 2012 before Obama won re-election.
- In the summer of 2014 before Republicans took the Senate, the gap in agreement between the two parties was 1-point. Looking at this gap by party would seem very ominous set of data for Democrats.
- On election night 2016, majority Republican agreement is the hallmark of Donald Trump’s win in rural America and in the Rust Belt that delivered Republicans the Presidency.
- There is another important part to this trend. In 1994, and 2010, 2014, and today Independent agreement with the “stacked against me” sentiment matched or was higher than the level of agreement among Republicans, providing the juice needed to deliver victories.
There has long been a “disaffected middle” that can swing to either political party, the Independent voter is a simple and instructive way to capture them in a set of cross –tabs. Republicans have proven able to mobilize these voters to deliver electoral wins that have meaningful and lasting consequence.
Trump’s oft-maligned brand of populism took hold among Republicans and Independents, it forced Democrats to shrink from this traditionally liberal point of view, and defend the system, their candidate’s own political elitism, and the staleness of the status quo.