Most of the Washington media got the 2016 election disastrously wrong, failing to anticipate the rise of Donald Trump and misunderstanding what motivated his voters. A year later, they’re still doing a poor job of understanding the Trump phenomenon.
A recent Washington Post piece demonstrates the extent to which some journalists remain in denial about Trump’s supporters. Titled,“Trump voters have buyer’s remorse in North Carolina focus group,” the story’s “BIG IDEA” stated that Trump voters who participated in a focus group the Post sat in on were “embarrassed by and exasperated with” the president. The Post’s quotes are all of the “I took a chance on Trump and he is letting us down” variety.
I don’t doubt these voters’ sincerity, or that there are others like them feeling buyer’s remorse after voting for Trump. But this analysis is flawed in several ways. For one thing, these voters aren’t representative of Trump voters generally.
The focus group, convened by veteran Democratic pollster Peter Hart to coincide with Trump’s 300th day in office, was made up of five independents, four Republicans and three Democrats.
The Post identifies the participants as “Trump voters,” which is ostensibly true. But they are an unrepresentative sample. What better way to find Trump voters who regret their vote than to talk to non-Republicans. The majority of Trump voters are Republicans, but only a third of the Trump voter focus group participants are Republicans, which may explain why only one participant said she was still fully supportive of the president.
The headline says, “Trump voters” but the piece focuses only on women, with the opinions of one man tacked on at the end. The Post doesn’t explain the gender breakdown of the group.
NBC News also did a write-up of Hart’s focus group, in which seven of the voters are identified as Clinton voters and only five as Trump voters. As with the Washington Post write up, the reviews are mostly negative.
Based on these negative reviews of the president’s performance, Hart told NBC News, “President Trump has embarrassed even his own supporters, and his problems start and end with himself. All of his problems are self-inflicted.”
The NBC News piece includes a paragraph at the end that somewhat belies the buyer’s remorse storyline. “And despite the tough words delivered throughout the evening, none of the five Trump voters said they had ruled out supporting his potential re-election bid or candidates he backs in the 2018 midterms.”
A few days after these stories were published,Sorock Research Group conducted a panel survey of 204 female Trump voters, and its findings, in its words, “strongly contradict” those of the Washington Post.
About 73 percent of SRG’s focus group participants were Republicans, 3 percent Democrats, and 19 percent independents. In SRG’s survey, 96 percent of the female Trump voters said they were not “embarrassed by President Trump’s behavior,” and just 0.5 percent of the female group said they regretted voting for him. An astonishing 99 percent of these female Trump voters would vote for Trump for president again.
This aligns with what I’ve been finding while interviewing residents of key counties across the country. I’ve been struck that very few of the Trump votersI’ve spoken with regret voting for him.
Four female Trump supporters I met in Volusia County, Fla., assured me their support for Trump wasn’t about him but about what he stood for. “Trump is just the messenger,” Maryann Pistilli (left) said. “The election wasn’t so much about Trump as about ‘we the people.’”
A few days after the Washington Post story was published, I met with four female voters in Volusia County, Fla. My focus group was hardly a random sample of female Trump supporters. The women referred to themselves as “the Trumpettes” and their strong support for Trump prompted them to work tirelessly during the 2016 campaign to register 60,000 voters in the county. They all were wearing Trump shirts or pins when we met.
That said, they all said Trump has met or exceeded their expectations, and I got the impression that no matter what happens in the next few years, they will support the president in 2020.
They assured me their support for Trump wasn’t so much about him but about what he stood for. “Trump is just the messenger,” Maryann Pistilli said. “The election wasn’t so much about Trump as about ‘we the people.’”
None of the women knew anyone who had voted for Trump and regretted it, and Pistilli said she has even met several women who voted for Hillary Clinton but now wish they had voted for Trump.
None of this is to ignore the fact that Trump’s overall approval rating remains dismally low. According to Gallup, the president’s approval ratings started at 45 percent and has declined to 38 percent, a 7-point decline that translates into millions of disappointed people. But to most of his supporters, including women, Trump is performing exactly as expected. As one of my focus group participants put it to me when I asked her what advice she’d give to Trump, “Stay strong, and continue doing what you’re doing.”
Read More: Will Hurricane Maria turn Florida blue?
Click to read the next story in the series, or share the article on social media.