Trump and Nativism – Is There a Connection?

Day after day, we continue to see the news splattered with headlines in reference to Trump’s lead in the GOP polls – and many wonder why.

In September, we decided to dig a bit deeper into the core driver of Trump’s campaign – Make America Great Again. Unsurprisingly, our poll found nativist sentiment is stronger in the Republican Party, especially among those that support Trump. His continued rise in the polls begs the question: has Trumpism had an effect on how people outside of the Republican Party feel about these issues?

To better understand this, we conducted a second poll on nativist sentiments and the 2016 election.

Shift in Nativist Attitudes

As Trump’s nativist position has remained constant throughout the duration of his campaign, and has been repeatedly highlighted in the media, have nativist sentiments begun to gain traction among Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike?

Here’s where things start to get interesting.

At first glance, 55% of the American public holds some degree (moderate/strong) of nativist sentiment compared to 46% in September. We formed an index of nativism by combining the same three attitudinal statements as we used in September’s index: “More and more, I don’t identify with what America has become,” “These days I feel like a stranger in my own country,” and “More and more, America is [NOT] a place I can feel comfortable.”

Nativist Sentiments

Compared to nativist sentiments measured in September, the percentage of strong nativists in each party has increased markedly. In fact, strong nativist attitude among Democrats has more than doubled from 8% in September to 17% in December. In the Republican Party, there seems to have been a large shift in which moderate nativist tendencies have become stronger. While strong nativist tendencies have largely been associated with Republican ideals, the uptick across the board suggests that regardless of political affiliation, Trump’s strategy may be hitting an emotional nerve among Americans.

nativist sentiment chart index2

nativist sentiment chart index3

Could something else be driving nativism?

While Trumpism falls greatly in-line with nativist attitudes, could there be something else that would account for the changes in nativist sentiment from September 2015 to January 2016?

As it turns out, there has been another interesting shift in public opinion from September to January. When asked, “What is the most important issue facing the US today?” the economy remains a top concern, but terrorism/terrorist attacks jumps from the fourth most important problem (9%) in September to the most important problem (20%) in January.

biggest problem facing the us

As terrorism jumps to the forefront of public concern, it is unsurprising that nativist sentiment has gained traction across all parties; concerns of terrorist attacks ignite protective feelings over what many would consider traditional American values and patriotism.

biggest problem facing the us terrorism

Who has the nativist vote?

Does Trump still remain favored by strong nativists over other candidates such as Cruz? Where does Clinton fit in?

In a head-to-head race, Trump vs. Clinton, 43% of those that would vote for Trump have strong nativist tendencies compared to 15% of those that would vote for Clinton. The results are almost identical in a Cruz vs. Clinton match up.

trump clinton

cruz clinton

While it is clear Republican candidates are largely supported by those with strong nativist feelings, it’s unclear whether Trumpism is affecting voter decisions. In both match ups those that indicate they would not vote for either candidate, or would not vote at all, were more likely to hold moderate/strong nativist views than those that would vote for Clinton.

What does this mean?

There’s been a marked increase in nativist attitudes in the last three months – not only within the Republican Party. Has the threat of terrorism caused both sides of the political spectrum to hold America a bit closer to their hearts? Or, has Trumpism had an impact on the emotional ties the American public holds regarding the glory days of America? And will that emotional jab turn into votes? Only time will tell.