How Trump Won, in Two Dimensions

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Media Outlet: Wall Street Journal

Lee Drutman's voter study was covered in a Wall Street Journal article about why that data both explains what happened in 2016 and what the Democratic party needs to do in response.

Before the arrival of Donald Trump, the Republican establishment tended to define politics along a one-dimensional economic axis. Their Democratic opponents were socialists while they were the growth and opportunity party. Mitt Romney’s candidacy embodied this view. His campaign’s 59-point plan of sensible free-market ideas was a manifesto for Republican insiders. No one but them ever read it. The Republican one-dimensional man was left in 2012’s dustbin.
The Voter Study Group’s Lee Drutman recently looked beyond the simple left-right paradigm in a questionnaire asking 2016 voters to identify both how they voted and how they felt about various economic and social issues. Mr. Drutman then mapped the results in a diagram, with economic preferences on the horizontal axis and social preferences on the vertical. The diagram revealed some surprising insights about American politics.
Most Hillary Clinton voters were deeply liberal on both axes. The surprise was the Trump voters, who were very conservative on social issues but moderate on economic ones. By Mr. Drutman’s count, 73% of all voters were left of center on economics. Most of the remaining Trump supporters were quite moderate on economic questions.
After the election, the so-called NeverTrumpers claimed that each of their favored candidates would also have beaten Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Drutman’s figures show what a pipe dream that is. A presidential candidate like Ted Cruz, who defines himself primarily through right-wing economic policies, begins with nearly three-quarters of the electorate in the other camp. Such a candidate isn’t likely to go very far.

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Lee Drutman is a senior fellow in the program on political reform at New America. He is the author of The Business of America is Lobbying (Oxford University Press, 2015).