Does Social Connectedness Explain Trump’s Appeal?

So what factor distinguishes Trump and non-Trump voters? My answer is social connectedness or, to use Robert Putnam’s term in “Bowling Alone,” social capital. Socially connected people have strong family ties and wide circles of friends, are active in churches and voluntary organizations and work steadily.

Putnam’s thesis is that social connectedness has declined sharply since the 1950s. But as Charles Murray notes in “Coming Apart,” that decline is uneven. Whites in the top third of income and education scales still have plenty of social capital. But there’s been a precipitous decline among whites in the lowest fifth of those scales. They work less steadily, attend church less often and participate very little in voluntary organizations.

Looking over the election returns, I sense that Trump’s support comes disproportionately from those with low social connectedness. My first clues came from the Dutch. Heavily Dutch-American counties in northwest and central Iowa and western Michigan, around Grand Rapids, were Huckabee and Santorum territory in past years.

This year, unlike surrounding territory, they voted for Ted Cruz, with Trump a poor third. Dutch-Americans have dense networks of churches and civic groups — unusually high social connectedness.

I saw something similar in strong Huckabee/Santorum southern Missouri. Southeast Missouri voted heavily for Trump, but southwest Missouri for Cruz. Southeast Missouri has high rates of disability insurance, an indicator of low workforce participation and low social connectedness. Southwest Missouri, headquarters of the Assemblies of God, has dense networks of civically active churches.

Similarly, exit polls show Trump doing worse with evangelicals who attend church weekly than with those who don’t. This helps explain why Trump carried South Carolina and lost Oklahoma, where church attendance is higher.

Then there is majority-Mormon Utah, whose Mormon majority has higher social connectedness than any other American group. Only 14 percent of Utah Republicans voted for Trump.

Putnam reports that social connectedness is highest in states with large Scandinavian- and German-American populations and in Utah. It’s lowest in — no surprise — Nevada, one of Trump’s best states.

In the 13 states highest in social connectedness, Trump has gotten just 21 to 35 percent in primaries and caucuses. In the 11 states lowest in social connectedness (except for Cruz’s Texas), his percentages ranged from 33 to 47 percent.

In states with medium social-connectedness but many retirees voting in Republican primaries – Florida and Arizona –Trump has run in the high 40s. He ran similarly in Massachusetts, where only a sliver of voters there are registered Republicans and their social connectedness may be limited to listening to Howie Carr on talk radio.

 

Trump’s Populist Schism Over Syria

His troop-withdrawal plan is politically risky. The Republican base is more hawkish than isolationist.

The most surprising thing about President Trump’s decision to overrule his top advisers and withdraw U.S. forces from Syria and Afghanistan isn’t that it was improvised and disruptive. Sudden shifts are part of Mr. Trump’s method, and disconcerting senior officials is one of his favorite management tools.

The surprise is that for the first time, Mr. Trump made a foreign-policy decision that divides the coalition that brought him into the White House and risks his control of the GOP. Mr. Trump has frequently challenged and infuriated his political opponents, but his Syria decision risks alienating allies he can ill afford to lose.

Nowhere has Mr. Trump’s sense of populist America been more important than in foreign policy. As a candidate in 2015-16, he showed that he understood something his establishment rivals in both parties did not: that the post-Cold War consensus no longer commanded the American people’s support.

.. During the Cold War, a large majority of Americans united around the policies that built the international liberal order after World War II. But when the Soviet Union collapsed, a gap opened between those who saw an opportunity to expand America’s world-building activities and those who saw an opportunity for the U.S. to reduce its commitments overseas. The foreign-policy establishment across both parties supported an ambitious global agenda, but increasingly alienated populists preferred to pull back.

For a quarter-century after the Soviet Union collapsed, the establishment consensus for building up the global order dominated American foreign policy, and dissenting voices were shunted aside. By 2016, that was no longer possible. In the Republican Party, Trump’s antiestablishment message led him to victory; on the Democratic side, Sen. Bernie Sanders’s campaign also benefited from opposition to establishment policies on security and trade.

The conservative opposition to conventional American foreign policy is anything but monolithic. One group of critics continues the Jeffersonian tradition of preserving American liberties at home by minimizing American involvement abroad. Figures like Sen. Rand Paul and his father, former Rep. Ron Paul, speak to this side of the populist coalition. Jeffersonians are skeptical of international institutions and alliances as well as American interventions to protect human rights abroad. They oppose big defense budgets and extensive military deployments and see no reason for an anti-Russia foreign policy. Many believe that Israel seeks to drag the U.S. into Middle East struggles that Washington would do better to avoid. Sen. Paul was quick to announce his support for President Trump’s Syria decision.

The other, Jacksonian wing of conservative populism shares the Jeffersonian suspicion of multilateralism and humanitarian interventions, but is more supportive of the American military and of maintaining America’s reputation for standing by allies. Jacksonians are hawkish about China, Russia and Iran and favor a strong relationship with Israel. This tendency in American politics is represented by figures like Sen. Tom Cotton, a U.S. Army veteran who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq and has criticized Mr. Trump’s Syria decision.

Mr. Trump’s beleaguered presidency needs both Jeffersonian and Jacksonian support to survive, and until the Syria decision, he had managed the tension between the two currents pretty effectively. Both Jacksonians and Jeffersonians supported the withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, and both hailed the president’s skepticism about humanitarian intervention. Both sides enjoyed the discomfiture of the foreign-policy establishment when Mr. Trump challenged conventional wisdom, and both praised his willingness to pursue a more unilateral course in foreign affairs.

That harmony may soon sour. Mr. Trump’s decisions on Syria and Afghanistan risk a rift between the president and his Jacksonian supporters and provide a way for some in the GOP to break with the president without losing their own populist credentials.

  • The betrayal of the Kurds, the
  • benefits to Iran of American withdrawal,
  • the tilt toward an Islamist and anti-Israel Turkey, and
  • the purrs of satisfaction emanating from the Kremlin are all bitter pills for Jacksonians to swallow.

Of the two wings of the GOP populist movement, the Jacksonians are the stronger and, from a political standpoint, the more essential. The GOP base is more hawkish than isolationist, and from jihadist terrorism to Russian and Chinese revisionism, today’s world is full of threats that alarm Jacksonian populists and lead them to support a strong military and a forward-leaning foreign policy.

Neoconservatives tried and failed to rally GOP foreign-policy hawks against Donald Trump. Should Jacksonians turn against him, they are likely to pose a much more formidable threat.

Women Who Love Trump

His approval among female Republicans is 93%—higher than among GOP men.

They aren’t just women. They are self-identified Republican women. No one likes Mr. Trump more than Republican women do. This parallel truth about women in the electorate jumped out from the data in the Dec. 17 Fox News Poll, a random national sample of registered voters.

.. Mr. Trump’s overall approval rating in the Fox poll is 46%. His approval among Republican women is 93%—8 points beyond his approval among GOP men. Republican women outrun men in their support for Mr. Trump on virtually every issue Fox polled.

The president should be especially happy with the love he’s getting on the great hate of his life—the Russia-collusion investigation. The percentage of GOP women who think the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians in 2016 is a mere 12%. The Republican men in their lives buy the collusion narrative at a 20% rate.

..  The percentage of the Fox sample self-identifying as Republican women is 17%. Mainly, the strength of their belief stands as a benchmark of Trump support. If they ever go wobbly on Mr. Trump in any significant way, he’s done.

.. I will argue until the final day that if Twitter didn’t exist, Mr. Trump would be having a politically successful presidency. The Trump tweets and counterattacks keep the country in a state of perpetual agitation. That artificially created anxiety may net out as a steady downdraft on the Trump presidency.

.. No other potential Democratic candidate registers a heartbeat among these women, with one exception—Joe Biden, with what I’d call a nonnegative rating of 41%.