Trump Is an Outlier, and the Data Prove It
When it comes to America’s engagement with the outside world — from trade to alliances — there’s still broad agreement across parties.
You may have missed it, what with all the campaign tawdriness of late, but the Chicago Council on Global Affairs recently released its biennial survey of American public opinion on U.S. foreign policy, which not surprisingly this year focuses on Republican attitudes. Much coincides with surveys conducted by Pew and other reputable pollsters, but I learned three things reviewing the Chicago Council data that I hadn’t understood before: Republican positions on globalization and trade shifted in 2008; Democrats are more supportive of trade than their presidential nominee; and the great divergence in stances on immigration now evident between Republicans and Democrats is the result of dramatic changes in viewpoints among Democrats, not Republicans.
First, though, it merits saying how much consensus remains across the political spectrum about America’s role in the world. The overwhelming majority of Americans continue to want a strong military, participation in our existing alliances, and additional alliance relationships. And most Americans favor our country acting through international institutions and support international agreements as a means of protecting and advancing our national interests. In fact, 89 percent of Americans support strong alliances, and we like NATO best of all. Sixty-eight percent of Americans even approve of a stronger United Nations, that bête noir of the right.
There is also considerable agreement over the threats we face, with strong majorities of respondents most worried about terrorism and nuclear proliferation (especially that of North Korea). Seventy-five percent of Republicans put terrorism at the top of their list of concerns, a higher proportion than did after 9/11. Democrats are more concerned about financial crisis and climate change than Islamic fundamentalism — but 49 percent of Democrats see the latter as a critical threat, too.
The journalist Peter Beinart wittily observed that Democrats are the new Republicans: advocates of engagement with the world, proponents of trade and globalization, optimists about the future. The Chicago Council’s data bear that out. You would never know it from listening to Hillary Clinton equivocate on trade, but 74 percent of Democrats favor the Trans-Pacific Partnership; even 56 percent of people who voted for Bernie Sanders support TPP.
Because the Chicago Council provides time-series data, it’s possible to see that the Republicans’ disaffection with globalization started in 2008 — before the Lehman Brothers collapse that started the financial crisis. Still, six in 10 Republicans continue to support globalization.
And Donald Trump supporters are not the outliers many consider them to be: 40 percent view trade as positive for the U.S. economy; 45 percent believe globalization has helped U.S. companies; 52 percent say globalization has been good “for consumers like you”; 49 percent agree that globalization has been beneficial for their standard of living. Where Trump supporters differ from other Americans is in their concern that despite those advantages, globalization has been damaging to jobs and job security.
Moreover, Trump supporters are not outliers from traditional Republican positions on military strength, alliances, or international institutions. More Trump supporters than other Americans favor keeping U.S. military bases in Japan and Korea, though their candidate has made statements to the effect that continuing these relationships would be contingent upon cash. Even 50 percent of Trump backers want America to have a shared leadership role in the world and think the NATO alliance is essential — again, an area where the GOP standard-bearer’s views have been less than supportive.
Attitudes on immigration are the greatest divergence between Republicans and Democrats. What I didn’t realize until combing through the Chicago Council data is that both Republicans and Democrats had a similar level of interest in 1998, with 57 percent of Republicans and 53 percent of Democrats concerned about immigration. Republican views have actually changed less than Democratic ones: 68 percent of Republicans now see immigration as a problem (up by 11 points), but only 31 percent of Democrats do — a drop of 21 points. Since the Chicago Council began collecting data on this question in 1998, Republican worries about immigration have hovered in the 60-percent range; Democrats have grown much more favorable toward immigration, both legal and illegal. But here, Trump voters really differ from others, with 80 percent believing that large numbers of immigrants and refugees are a critical threat to our country.
Interestingly enough, Trump voters are also those least affected by the diversity immigration brings. Such data reinforce the findings of sociologist Robert Putnam’s work on religious tolerance in America: The more exposure people have to difference, the more tolerant they become.
Overall, the Chicago Council data are incredibly reassuring. There remains a broad, deep consensus among Americans about an engaged role in the world being positive for our security and our economy, that the allies and institutions we built from the devastation of World War II continue to deserve our support, and that trade is an essential component of our prosperity. Where differences have emerged — on immigration, for example — they result in increasing tolerance by liberals rather than growing intolerance by conservatives. It is alarming the extent to which one would come to very different conclusions listening to the Democratic nominee on trade or the Republican nominee on, well, everything.
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