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On Trump approval, asking ‘Why?’ reveals differences by education, within GOP

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On Trump approval, asking ‘Why?’ reveals differences by education, within GOP

Many pollsters, including our team here at SurveyMonkey, track President Trump’s approval rating, which has fallen to an all-time low. We wanted to delve deeper—to ask respondents not just whether they approve or disapprove of the job Donald Trump is doing as president, but why.

We did this in the simplest way possible: by immediately following our question on presidential approval with the open-ended question “Why?” This way, we can get explanations in respondents’ own words as to how they feel about our current Commander in Chief.

Republican Approvers: ‘Kept Promises’  Republican Disapprovers: ‘Childish’

In SurveyMonkey’s most recent Trump approval update, 59% of people (and 15% of Republicans) said they disapprove of the job Trump is doing as president.

What’s making these Republicans frustrated enough to split with their own party? To find out, we used structural topic modeling (using the ‘stm’ R package) to explore how different groups of people explained their various reasons for approving or disapproving of President Trump. Structural topic modeling is a machine learning technique that discovers themes or “topics” within a large collection of responses, then predicts the prevalence of these topics according to certain respondent characteristics (i.e. party ID, Trump approval, and education level).

The graph below presents the differences in prevalence of various topics mentioned in response to our “Why?” follow-up, comparing responses among Republicans by whether they approve or disapprove of Trump’s performance as president (the lines represent 95% confidence intervals).

Our results show that the top two reasons Republicans cite for disapproving of Trump have to do with his being “childish” and “unpresidential.” For example, one respondent said, “He tends to be a bit of a loose cannon and seems to tweet and speak without thinking it seems. Don’t feel like he is representing the office with dignity most of the time.” Another said, simply, “He’s rude and childish.”

Still, a large majority of Republicans (85%) approve of the job Trump is doing as president. When asked why, they highlight that he has “kept promises” made during the campaign, “put America first,” “tried to get things done”, and “reversed the last eight years” of Obama administration policies.

Many respondents cite specific campaign slogans (“MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” in some form or another is used by about 8% of all respondents) in their responses. But, as it turns out, there are substantial differences in support for Trump even among Trump supporters—and one of the strongest determinants is education.

‘Reduce regulations’ is the ‘MAGA’ for college grads

Many of Trump’s campaign slogans have enjoyed staying power with his supporters, but not every slogan appeals to every supporter.

As the chart above shows, college grads tend to zero in on more tangible goals (top mentioned topic was “reduced regulations”) whereas those without college degrees focus on vaguer ambitions like ‘making America great again.” Many college grads applaud Trump for “reinvigorating the economy” by removing “intrusive” regulations on business that do more harm than good. This group also advocates another time-tested Trumpism: “Draining the Swamp.” However, the college grads who cited this reason for approving of Trump also acknowledged that while Trump is “trying” to drain the swamp and accomplish his other campaign promises, he is “being blocked by others”, including both Democrats and members of his own party.

One topic that emerged equally from non-college grads and college grads was the feeling that while Trump has “good positions”, he also has a “flawed personality” that does not lend itself to effective communicating or strategizing.

On the other hand, those with less than a college degree praise Trump using some of his more amorphous campaign slogans: “Making American great again” and “Putting America First.” These supporters also appreciate Trump for his plain-speaking (“Tells it like it is”) and for the fact that he is “doing his best” despite facing adversity.

From analyzing the open-ended responses to “why?” people approve or disapprove of President Trump, we found two interesting trends. First, campaign slogans have staying power, but which slogan appeals to an individual depends on their personal background: in this case, their education. More educated respondents valued Trump’s concrete promises and actions – for them, ‘making America great again’ paled in comparison to actually eliminating business regulations. Second, Republicans who disapprove of Trump highlight his character flaws (‘childish’ and ‘unpresidential’), while even those who approve of him praise his actions (“keeping campaign promises” and “reversing the last 8 years) rather than his personality.

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