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The apathetic vote for Trump: arriving at a “reluctant Trumper” definition

The apathetic vote for Trump: arriving at a “reluctant Trumper” definition

Not all Americans who voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election were enthusiastic supporters. In partnership with FiveThirtyEight, SurveyMonkey will release a regular look at the views of Americans who reluctantly voted for President Trump on Election Day. The process by which we arrived at defining a cohort of “reluctant Trump voters” is discussed below.  

Defining Reluctant Trump Voters

Since there is no standard definition of “reluctant Trump voters,” we tested several ways we could define this group. Along with vote choice, the following questions were examined:

  1. Favorability: “Thinking back to election day on November 8th, did you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Donald Trump?”
  2. Opinion Change: “Since election day on November 8th, has your opinion of Donald Trump gotten better, worse, or stayed about the same?”
  3. Promises Accomplished: “How many campaign promises do you think Donald Trump will accomplish during his presidency?”
  4. Approval: “Do you approve or disapprove of the way Donald Trump is handling his job as president?”  
  5. Expectations: “As president, has Donald Trump exceeded, met, or fallen short of your expectations?”  
  6. Excitement: “How excited were you to vote for Donald Trump for president?”

The Favorability question gives us an idea of a respondent’s overall opinion of the man himself on Election Day, but does not directly address voters’ level of excitement or enthusiasm in voting for their candidate.  Both the Opinion Change and Expectation questions measure a comparison in feeling but does not explicitly address their level of enthusiasm in November of last year, and these may be better measures of regret. The Approval and Promises Accomplished questions focus on the present and future-oriented evaluations of Trump’s job performance, respectively.

Our search for reluctant Trump supporters was better served by asking how Trump voters felt back in November.  So the decision was clear: the Excitement question best measures “reluctant Trump voters,” because they are asked in no uncertain terms to directly rate their level of excitement in voting for Mr. Trump.

To create this group, we combined respondents who said they were “Not so excited” or “Not at all excited” to vote for Trump in November. How are these voters different from Trump voters overall? While they are relatively similar in terms of gender, race/ethnicity, and age, this group was more likely to have higher levels of education (46% were college grads or higher versus is 29% among all Trump voters). They are also more evenly split between Republicans and independents than Trump voters overall, who skew more Republican.

Validating the definition

Because we are asking respondents to recall their feelings from several months ago, we wanted to validate that our definition was truly capturing people who reluctantly voted for Trump in November. To do so, we compared the demographics of this group to those who had an unfavorable view of him but planned on voting for Donald Trump  in our pre-election data and in our post-election poll (immediately fielded after the election) to the new definition we created.

Table of reluctant Trump voter demographics

The table above compares the demographics of the “reluctant Trump” group according to our current definition which uses the Excitement question to our pre-election and post-election data. Using the Excitement question, the demographic composition seems to closely match voters who supported Trump just prior to the election or reported they voted for him on November 8th, but held an unfavorable view of him. The similar demographic characteristics of these two samples provides us with evidence that the Excitement question closely captures individuals who indeed reluctantly voted for Donald Trump.

As time moves on, the share who say they were NOT excited to vote for Trump could go up or down due to either events in the news or recall bias. As this share moves up or down, the shape of “reluctant Trump voters” could change. We’ll be monitoring this and adjusting our definition as necessary.

Still interested in learning more?

Dig deeper into the data we used to test the different definitions of Reluctant Trump voters here.

For a in depth look on the SurveyMonkey/FiveThirtyEight “Reluctant Trump Voter” survey, check out the crosstabs here.

Curious about Trump’s approval rating? We have a weekly blog post for that. Be sure to check back each week to to see how people think he is doing in his job as president.

Also, make sure to check out FiveThirtyEight’s piece on our partnership poll: ‘Reluctant’ Trump Voters Swung The Election. Here’s How They Think He’s Doing.