Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Trump's Base: "Low Information Voters"

Today is election day and hopefully before the day is out, Donald Trump will have gone down to a decisive defeat that even a self-absorbed narcissist cannot deny.   Where his supporters will go after today is less clear.  They loathe the so-called GOP establishment and, truth be told, the feeling is mutual.  Trump has unleashed all the hate and bigotry that the post 2012 presidential election post mortem found detrimental to the future of the Republican Party.  A piece in the Washington Post by researchers at the University of Alabama suggests that the key to Trump's rise  is "low information voters."  Those who have limited knowledge of how our government works and who are motivated by emotion rather than logic and facts, something that explains in party why Trump has been so attractive a figure for evangelical Christians who meet both of these standards. Here are article highlights: 
Our research finds that Trump has attracted a disproportionate (and unprecedented) number of “low-information voters” to his campaign. Furthermore, these voters are more likely to respond to emotional appeals — whether about the economy, immigration, Muslims, racial relations, sexism, and even hostility to the first African American U.S. president, Barack Obama. They are the ideal constituency for a candidate like Trump.
We define low-information voters as those who do not know certain basic facts about government and lack what psychologists call a “need for cognition.” Those with a high need for cognition have a positive attitude toward tasks that require reasoning and effortful thinking and are, therefore, more likely to invest the time and resources to do so when evaluating complex issues. Those with a low need for cognition, on the other hand, find little reward in the collection and evaluation of new information when it comes to problem solving and the consideration of competing issue positions. They are more likely to rely on cognitive shortcuts, such as “experts” or other opinion leaders, for cues.
Drawing on data from the 2016 American National Election Studies Pilot Studies, we measured the need for cognition based on whether respondents agreed or disagreed that “Thinking is not my idea of fun” and “I would rather do something that requires little thought than something that is sure to challenge my thinking abilities.” We measured knowledge of government based on a question asking how long senators’ terms were and a question on which of four policy areas the government spends the least (the answer was foreign aid; the other options were Medicare, national defense and Social Security). We focused our analysis on whites because nonwhites were not supporting Trump in sufficient numbers.  
For example, we found that people who did not know either of these questions about government evaluated Trump 20 points more favorably than Clinton, compared with those who knew both of those questions. This was not true in 2012: Knowledge of politics had little relationship with people’s views of Mitt Romney and Obama.
Similarly, people who expressed less “need for cognition” evaluated Trump 12 points more favorably than Clinton . . . . We also found that the effect of political knowledge and need for cognition may affect support for Trump via association with concern about the economy and attitudes toward Muslims, African Americans and immigrants. This suggests that voters who know less about politics may be attracted to Trump for these reasons, which also helps explain why they continue to support him in the face of his many mistruths. If they are willing to believe that Obama is a Muslim and that Muslims are inherently violent, for example, why wouldn’t they believe that the election is “rigged”?
“[L]ow-information voters” are not the entirety of Trump’s base of support. They are, however, a sizable bloc. . . . a core part of his base is made up of low-information voters who appear more susceptible to Trump’s appeals based on race and religion and less prepared to challenge his misstatements and untruths.

It's nice to have research data to back up what many of us felt we already knew about Trump's base.

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