Donald Trump has a teeny, tiny…
Anyone watching the Republican primaries has to be asking themselves if the entire country has lost its mind. If you listen to the media, it is easy to get the idea that Trump is inspiring a massive movement. After all, he is winning by a YUUUGE margin, right? Many people, both here in America and around the world, must be wondering: how can such a large proportion of the American public possibly be supporting someone so blatantly racist, sexist, inarticulate, dishonest, and, frankly, terrifying? For those who are worried about this, I have some encouraging news: they aren’t. Trump’s voter base is actually really small. Let’s break it down with the help of some sweet graphs.
There are two things you need to know about the primary electorate. First, people who vote in primaries are a minority of the overall electorate. By my calculation, across every election without an incumbent since 1980, the number of Republicans who voted in the primary has averaged about 39% of the number of Republican voters in the general election. In other words, 61% of Republican voters skip the primary and only vote in the general election. Second, the primary electorate is not only relatively small, but it also votes quite differently than the general electorate. Primary voters tend to be more partisan and ideological than general election voters. Republican primary voters tend to be older, more religious, and more conservative across the board than Republican voters overall. You can think of primary voters (in both parties) as a minority made up of the party’s most hard core members, both in terms of ideology and engagement.
Of this small, hard-core group of Republicans, Trump is consistently winning only about 35% of the vote. Despite this, he has won a lot of state primaries because there were so many other people in the race. Basically, the 65% who consistently voted against Trump took a really long time to coalesce around a single alternative. But despite the media frenzy that makes it sound like Trump is amassing a huge groundswell of support, he is really only winning about 35% of 39% of Republican voters. (See Figure 2)
This means that as a percentage of Republican voters overall, Trump’s base only represents around 14% (Figure 3.) Think about that for a second. You could grab a hundred Republican voters off the street and you would be lucky to find fifteen of them who actually voted for Trump. Sorry, Donald. You really don’t get to call your campaign a “movement” if you can’t even get 15% of your own party to vote for you. When you put it into perspective, it looks a lot more like a radical fringe than a popular uprising.
Finally, lets look at Trump’s base as a percentage of all eligible voters. According to Pew Research, the entire 2016 Republican primary electorate makes up only 17% of the voting-eligible population. As we know, only about 35% of that group has voted for Trump. 35% of 17% comes out to a grand total of 6% (Figure 4.) For reference, that is less than the number of Americans who believe the moon landing was faked (I suspect there is a lot of overlap between the two groups but I can’t prove it.)
This should come as some comfort to those who are worried that all Americans have lost their minds. It isn’t as bad as all that. So far, only 6% of us have.
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