U.S. Elections 2016

Trump card: Angry and dissatisfied voters

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump talks to supporters at a campaign rally in an airplane hanger at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport on Feb 27, 2016.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump talks to supporters at a campaign rally in an airplane hanger at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport on Feb 27, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

United States presidential candidate Donald Trump is winning votes across every age group, education level, gender and even ethnicity. He has zipped across the country and won three primary races in a row in the north-eastern state of New Hampshire, South Carolina in the south, and western Nevada.

His success has stumped analysts and academics, who failed to find a common denominator among his Republican supporters - until now.

Mr Trump, they say, has stirred up the angry American voter.

In South Carolina and Nevada, more than 90 per cent of Republican voters said they were dissatisfied and angry with the federal government, and experts say these people are turning to Mr Trump as their candidate because he legitimises their anger and is seen as a political outsider who can right the wrongs of Washington.

"They are attracted to Trump frankly because he sounds as angry as they are... Check his 'no holds barred' rhetoric which is observably sexist, racist, rude, impolite and lacking in civility," said associate professor of political science Robert Dickens from the University of Nevada, Reno.

According to Nevada entrance polls conducted by CNN, Mr Trump was the top candidate for both college graduates and non-college graduates; despite his rhetoric against Mexicans and illegal immigrants, he was also the top pick of Latino voters, who made up 8 per cent of Republican caucus goers in Nevada.

Mr Trump did well even among evangelicals, whose votes were expected to go to a more traditionally conservative candidate like Texas Senator Ted Cruz. But in Nevada, about 40 per cent of evangelical Christians said they supported Mr Trump, compared with only 26 per cent for Mr Cruz.

Said associate professor of political science Daniel Franklin from Georgia State University: "I have always thought they took their religion pretty seriously. They certainly wouldn't support - at least in the past - an unrepentant sinner."

He added: "I think their frustration with the Republican Party trumps their religious beliefs."

Indeed, a columnist for The Guardian noted how Trump supporters were also united in their anger against the media, whom Mr Trump slammed as "the most dishonest people, bad people".

"They boo us in the pen..." wrote columnist Dave Schilling. "It is quite a feeling to be among a crowd of thousands who would gladly tear you to pieces."

That anger is overwhelming.

In South Carolina, 92 per cent of Republicans said they were dissatisfied or angry with the federal government and 33 per cent of this group backed Mr Trump.

In Nevada, he has an even bigger following among this disenfranchised group, commanding 46 per cent of their support.

One key reason for their frustration is the slow economic recovery, and the losses they endured in their income and home values, according to experts.

"The angry and dissatisfied voters know well that the 1 to 5 per cent at the upper end of the income distribution are doing fine, yet tax cuts, incentives, etc, have not yielded the 'trickle-down' of wealth promised by 'supply side' economics," said Prof Dickens.

On the social front, Prof Dickens added that there is a "generous portion of distaste" for "major social shifts of the Obama era", for example, the Supreme Court ruling to legalise same-sex marriage.

Given that there are five Republican candidates still in the race, why are angry Republicans rallying behind Mr Trump? Even though the billionaire businessman belongs to the top 1 per cent, people back him because he "legitimises that anger through his rhetoric", said Prof Dickens.

His outsider status also lends credibility to his campaign. In Nevada, 61 per cent of those polled believed the next president should come from outside the establishment. Of that group, 70 per cent said they would vote for Mr Trump.

Said Prof Franklin: "I don't see the anger dissipating. The recovery we have had in the last 10 years has really been very top heavy and a lot of people are getting left behind."

And while the primaries ahead are "Trump's to lose", it seems he is likely to ride this wave of anger all the way to the nomination.

"Fact is the libertarianism of Cruz and his lack of comity and likeability in the US Senate or Rubio's youthful policy hollowness have yet to identify such a pathway or to have gained enough traction with voters to date," said Prof Dickens.

Or as Mr Trump put it during Thursday's Republican debate, Mr Cruz is a liar while Florida Senator Marco Rubio is a choke artist.

He, on the other hand, will make America great again, and that is all his angry supporters need to hear.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 28, 2016, with the headline 'Trump card: Angry and dissatisfied voters'. Print Edition | Subscribe