Ryan Streeter uses survey data to puncture two pieces of conventional wisdom: Working-class voters (defined as middle-income voters with at least a high-school diploma but no college degree) are more optimistic about the economy than the public at large, and Trump voters with college degrees are more hostile to journalists and skeptical of experts than Trump voters without those degrees. Streeter concludes that Republicans don’t need to adopt protectionism or economic populism to appeal to working-class Trump supporters: “Trumpism is an anti-leftist, anti-elitist cultural stance. It is not a policy agenda.”
I think we’re left with a bit of a puzzle. If (a) Trumpism is about cultural attitudes that (b) appeal disproportionately to his college-educated supporters, then why is it that (c) Trump has shown demonstrably greater appeal than other Republicans to voters without degrees? One possible solution: Maybe a lot of these working-class voters aren’t committed to protectionism and don’t think the system is stacked against them, but found something appealing in a blunt-spoken, successful businessman. Another: Maybe they aren’t especially hostile to the media, but they are appreciative of Social Security and Medicare and preferred a Republican who promised not to touch them. Or: They liked the idea of a big infrastructure push, or of a Republican who wouldn’t be kept from helping people out by ideology. And I’m sure we could come up with other theories.
The data Streeter presents are worth pondering, but I don’t think they rule out the possibility that Trump’s distinctive economic program had something to do with his distinctive appeal.