The myth of Trump’s angry legions

The myth of Trump’s angry legions

Matt Bai
National Political Columnist
Yahoo Politics
Trumpmania may be telling us a lot less about the dominant mood in the electorate at large than we think. (Photo: Dominick Reuter/Reuters)

Voters of America: Get ahold of yourselves, please.

I know you’re irrational and seething with anger. I know this because I keep reading about it, in every somber piece of punditry about Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders or what’s going to drive the 2016 campaign. I hear it on my Twitter feed and in the fundraising emails that batter me all day long.

Apparently the entire country got hit with some kind of gamma ray, and now everybody’s all huge and green and hurling campaign buses willy-nilly across the highway.

Except that when I meet American voters, they don’t generally seem so unhinged to me. They mostly seem bewildered by our politics, and maybe a little too busy to care. Which makes me wonder if this whole year-of-the-angry-voter thing might be one of those instances where we think we’re seeing one thing, when really we’re seeing something else.

The chief exhibit in the case for voter rage, of course, is Trump. In case you haven’t heard, because maybe you’re all about Caitlyn Jenner and can fixate on only one attention-craved reality-TV star at a time, Trump is the clear frontrunner in the Republican field and the instrument of our blinding national outrage.

Also, just by the way, he’s phenomenal to the women.

Democrats and liberal commentators love the Trump story. It underscores, at a glance, how twisted with bile and bigotry the Republican Party must be. The guy excoriates Mexicans and manages to make Megyn Kelly look sympathetic, and still he’s ahead! What does that tell you?

Maybe not as much as you think.

Yes, there’s a sizable segment of enraged voters in the GOP — and on the left, for that matter. The angry vote is a fixture of the modern political landscape and has been, more or less, since at least the 1970s.

But Trump Mania may be telling us a lot less about the dominant mood in the electorate at large than we think. As one of the more astute liberal bloggers, Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum, points out, Trump has been drawing the support of less than a quarter of Republican primary voters, who in turn make up less than a quarter of the voting public.

And not only are Trump’s mad-as-hell voters a fraction of a fraction of the electorate, but they represent even a subset of that small group who are engaged in the campaign at this point and angry enough to actually take a pollster’s call.

In other words, Trump’s summer surge tells you about as much about prevailing political attitudes in America as the line outside the Yogiberry tells you about the state of the American dairy industry.

Here’s something interesting to consider: According to the Pew Research Center, which to my mind does the best polling on public attitudes across a range of topics, anger in the American electorate actually peaked in 2013 (at about 30 percent), after Republicans in Washington decided to turn the budget process into a series of hostage crises. Since then, the number of voters who identify themselves as angry has actually dipped precipitously, to about 19 percent last year.

It’s also worth noting that, according to the latest data from the University of Michigan, consumer confidence in the economy — which is what voters are said to be most angry about — is considerably higher than it was a year or two ago.


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