Are Trump Switchers More Similar to Regular Trump Voters or Clinton Voters?

Ahead of the 2020 election, there’s been debate over whether the Democratic Party should try to win over voters who switched to Donald Trump in 2016 — after not having voted in Republican in 2012 . Where these Trump switchers stand politically might matter in this calculus, as certain analyses argue.

I turned to the Voter Study Group panel (using the data released in 2018) to get a sense of these switchers in comparison to all Clinton and Trump voters. Using survey responses on the same individuals, I was able to check these three key groups — Clinton voters, Trump switchers, and Trump voters — 1) for various political beliefs and 2) before, right after, and in years following the 2016 election. Because of its panel nature (thousands of individuals reinterviewed in 2011, 2016, 2017 and 2018), the data can offer unique insights — like opinion measures on Trump switchers ahead of time (five years before the 2016 election). The below graph shows the results. Overall, it’s a mixed bag, but these Trump switchers resemble typical Trump voters more so.


Here’s a quick roundup of the most interesting results:

  • Trump switchers are attached to the Republican Party, though not as much as all Trump voters are. Interestingly, they are right between Trump and Clinton voters for degree of identification as conservative or very conservative (on self-described ideology).
  • The economy is important for all voters, but the party in power matters for their assessment of the economy in terms of whether it’s getting better. Notably, Trump switchers aren’t the same as all Trump voters (they rate the economy less positively) but these switchers still follow the same upward trend after entering the Trump presidency. This suggests they come under similar pressures of partisan motivated reasoning as regular partisan voters do on perceived conditions that reflect on the party in power (like the economy).
  • The middle row in the graph above containing immigration items has key results. In every year and across almost every item, Trump switchers are very similar to all Trump voters — even in terms of their beliefs in 2011 (before Trump entered political realm). This latter note about preexisting similarities makes it perhaps unsurprising that Trump won these people over (as Trump likely activated this immigration opinion and thus influenced vote choice).
  • For opinion on the Muslim ban — data for which only comes from 2016, 2017, and 2018 — Trump switchers are essentially identical to Trump voters in every year. On another attitude that invokes a social outgroup (i.e. much like opinion on immigration), Trump switchers closely mirror the larger Trump voter bloc.
  • Switchers are more resistant to free trade than either major party voting group.
  • For the role of government in health care coverage, Trump switchers don’t hew more closely to all Clinton or Trump voters, but have grown more conservative on this issue during the Trump era (2016 and 2017).


Are Trump Switchers More Similar to Regular Trump Voters or Clinton Voters?

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