Trump Nation is more than a demographic or an attitude. To get beyond the clichés, USA TODAY NETWORK interviewed scores of Trump supporters.
We think we know Trump Nation, perhaps from polls that show it is older and whiter, less affluent and less educated. Its denizens are not as conservative as most Republicans, and not as politically involved. And they are famously angry — with Washington, Barack Obama and political correctness.
“We’re gonna be the smart people,’’ Donald Trump told his supporters after winning the Nevada presidential caucus. “We’re not gonna be the people that get pushed around.”
But Trump Nation is more than a demographic or an attitude. To get beyond the clichés, the USA TODAY NETWORK interviewed scores of Trump supporters, some in every state, for a more nuanced understanding of who they are and why they support such an unconventional and often contradictory candidate.
It’s as much because of who they are as who he is.
For many of these Americans, voting this November will be deeply personal. Trump has aroused something inside them — often anger, frustration and fear, but also hope. Two words that recurred in interviews with his supporters were “country” and “jobs.”
In Trump, some see themselves. “Donald Trump is not politically correct, and I am not politically correct,’’ said Bill Miller, 59, of Dover, N.J.
Others see themselves as they wish they were. Trump, said Aaron Wilson, a 34-year-old New Harmony, Ind., real estate agent and auctioneer, is “saying the things that a lot of people want to say, but they can’t.’’
The people of Trump Nation are ones who fly the flag, say the pledge, wish you Merry Christmas, maybe even if they don’t know whether you observe Christmas. They drive the trucks, man the sales counters, fix the plumbing. Manage billions.
They’re a small-town jeweler who, on his own initiative, opened a local Trump headquarters; a Florida woman who admires Trump for complaining about a Mexican-American judge because she’d be reluctant to; a baseball umpire who doesn’t believe a woman should be president; a 73-year-old Tennessee woman who finds nothing more upsetting than men in women’s restrooms — except men in women’s locker rooms.
And many are like Bill Miller, 59, of New Jersey, who complains about political correctness but has a more concrete motivation: He hopes that Trump will bring back jobs, and that he’ll get one.
Generalizing about Trump Nation, which accounts for at least 40% of the electorate, is perilous. As Trump himself said after winning the South Carolina primary, his voters were “short people, tall people. I won fat people, skinny people. I won highly educated, OK educated, and practically not educated at all. I won the evangelicals big, and I won the military.” A Pew survey also shows that the majority of Trump voters — as well as Clinton voters — view their choice as a vote against the other candidate, rather than for their own.
In these interviews, Trump supporters used the same talking points and buzz words heard repeatedly on cable television and talk radio. But deeper themes emerged:
• A feeling of being stifled — unable to speak frankly about issues like welfare, race or immigration — and thus an admiration for Trump, who does
• A nostalgia for America as it was, and a yearning for its restoration
• An aversion to the usual political cant and hypocrisy that makes Trump’s apparent candor seem a tonic
• A disdain for Hillary Clinton that makes Trump, however divisive, insulting or crude, the lesser evil
Trump is not an evangelical Christian, but he appeals to those who have repeatedly been disappointed by candidates promising crackdowns on abortion and same-sex marriage. He may not be a real conservative, but he appeals to those who have seen government grow under conservatives.
About three-quarters of Trump supporters believe life in America has gotten worse, compared to a fifth of Clinton voters, according to a Pew survey. Trump Nation reveres the past; in USA TODAY NETWORK interviews, the word “again’’ was used far more frequently by Trump’s voters than Clinton’s.
“We are going to become just another country where our government is basically the babysitter, or we’re going to become a country that shows self-sufficiency again like it did when I was a young man,’’ said Pat Acciavatti, 77, of St. Clair Township, Mich. “The country I grew up in is definitely not the country I live in.’’
Trump has converted white evangelical Protestants (72% of whom say the American way of life has changed for the worse since the ‘50s) and conservative Catholics into what Robert Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, calls “nostalgia voters.”
Evangelicals admit that a twice-divorced former casino operator who says he’s never sought God’s forgiveness is not one of them. But they’re attracted by his promise to deliver what other presidents, like George W. Bush, did not, and to win where other candidates, like Mitt Romney, lost.
“I’m a born-again Christian and a conservative and that’s kind of how I vote,’’ said Lora Hubbel, 58, of Vermillion, S.D. Trump, she conceded “doesn’t necessarily fit that bill, but the last one who did was Jimmy Carter. So, him being the second-worst president behind our current one, maybe you don’t always want what you think you want.’’ She’ll vote for Trump.
Many Trump supporters feel their religious beliefs are not respected and, in fact, violated by government decrees and court decisions, and that their right to free speech is being restricted by an excess of political correctness. As Elizabeth Lynch, an 18-year-old college student from Centennial, Colo., put it simply: “I’m extremely pro-life, so I liked what he said about protecting religious freedom and liberty.”
Those feelings intersect with those who feel betrayed by politicians and are therefore attracted by what they see as Trump’s candor.
“He doesn’t have the political jargon,’’ said Sharon Heard, 59, of Mansfield, Ohio, “If you ask him a question, he’ll answer it straight on. And even if someone is trying to dig him about something, he’ll face it: ‘Yeah, you’re right, I did do that. Next question.’ Not dance around the answer.’’
‘More against Hillary’
Trump voters used the term “political” in interviews twice as often as Clinton supporters, and almost never positively.
“If we continue to vote for the same old governors, the same old senators, the same old politicians, we’re going to get the same old government,’’ said Roz Lesser, 71, of Cape Coral, Fla., a retired accountant. Since “it hasn’t worked with the career politicians,’’ she wants to give Trump a chance.
Government bureaucrats also draw the ire of Trump supporters. “So many people in Washington in government — gosh, you name a department in D.C., Education or whatever – they have no life experience other than being on a faculty or teaching or in an academic world that’s not real,’’ said Wayne Ryan, 68, of Alexandria, La.
More than half of Trump supporters (55%) view their vote primarily as one against Clinton; 41% view it more as a vote for Trump.
Trump supporters are so hungry for change, and so eager to stop Clinton, that they’re willing to overlook what they admit is bad behavior. “Do I wish there were other choices involved?’’ asked longtime Republican Bob Langevin, 72, of Tequesta, Fla. “I do. But I am honestly voting more against Hillary than I am for Donald Trump.’’
Erwin Jackson, 65, a Tallahassee, Fla., real estate investor, feels the same way. “When you are looking at someone who I believe is a crook,’’ he said, referring to Clinton, “versus someone who sometimes has a bad attitude, I will go with the guy who has a bad attitude any day of the week.’’
Voters are always willing to explain away the faults of candidates who touch them; Trump is no exception. “He’s had a few bankruptcies in his past, but what successful businessman hasn’t?’’ asked Dan Koehler, a 42-year-old forklift driver who lives in Petal, Miss. “You get an idea and you go with it. So hey, you made money, and if it doesn’t work, that’s what bankruptcy is for.’’
To the true believers of Trump Nation, the Republican nominee is the best since Ronald Reagan. Stephanie Silva, 39, of Warwick, R.I., heard all the candidates during the primaries. When she heard Trump, she recalled, “it was almost as if he was speaking to me. It was almost as if he knew my family’s problems.’’
About Trump Nation
Armed with white paper and Sharpies, journalists from across the USA TODAY NETWORK spoke with voters in every state to better understand who will get their vote for president this fall and why. Each person was asked to write down a short description of who they are and was photographed with that sign. The project includes audio from their interviews, as well as written excerpts of their comments. The goal: present a diverse set of voices of everyday Americans to find out what’s driving their decisions this election.