Concern about threats from abroad is key to distinguishing supporters of Donald Trump from other voters

Donald Trump’s success has been attributed to rising anger at government, to his celebrity status, to his take-no-prisoners attitude and to his willingness to violate political correctness and conventional norms. But he has also positioned himself to take advantage of international insecurity and the two issues that have made many people insecure: immigration and terrorism.  To many Trump supporters, this is a dangerous world.

That doesn’t negate economic concerns, though analysis of Economist/YouGov Polls in the last seven years shows “the economy” slipping as the country’s most important issue.  From 2009-2011, 39% of respondents aggregated from all Economist/YouGov polls in those years chose the economy as the country’s most important issue.  In the first part of 2016, just 18% of respondents did.  Concerns about terrorism rose from 3% to 14% in the same period. 

The Economist/YouGov Polls ask the important issue question differently from some other polls. Respondents are asked separately about the importance of each of 15 issues, and then asked to choose their “most important” issue from the issues they ranked as “very important.”  So while four in five Americans rank “the economy” as “very important,” other issues this year have outranked economic concerns. 

The issues that matter vary dramatically by party – and even within party.  This year’s Democratic primary and caucus voters are mostly focused on economic concerns: nearly half pick one of three issues that can be thought of as essentially economic: Social Security, health care and the economy in general (the environment ranks fourth).  Republican voters care about the economy and Social Security, too, but they are also much more likely to worry about terrorism and immigration. 

And that’s especially true of Donald Trump’s supporters.  24% of them put terrorism or immigration first; 18% cite the economy. Some of those supporting other candidates also cite these issues, but they are far more likely than Trump’s supporters to focus on traditional GOP issues like abortion and the budget deficit (Trump’s GOP supporters are less likely to be very religious than other Republican voters).

What’s especially interesting is how Trump’s supporters link the two issues together: during the first months of 2016, 86% said terrorism was a very important issue to them; 82% said immigration was.  More than three-quarters said both were.  And they were likely to express their worries and to support actions that many other Americans oppose. 

Among those distinctions (from Economist/YouGov Polls conducted in the last year with questions repeated this week): 

  • More than half of Trump supporters today look at illegal immigration as a very serious problem in their communities, compared with 17% overall.
  • Two-thirds of Trump supporters now believe illegal immigrants are more likely to commit violent crimes, compared with 29% overall and 54% of all GOP voters
  • Half think the chances of a terrorist attack in the next 12 months are “very likely” compared with one quarter overall.
  • 56% think more than half of all Muslim worldwide support ISIS, compared with 28% overall.

These concerns are not shared at that intense level by other GOP voters.

Confronting this dangerous world have made Donald Trump’s supporters very open to some of his more newsworthy statements and proposals: 88% accept his characterization of Mexican immigrants, made at his presidential announcement, as “having lots of problems…bringing drugs…bringing crime…rapists.”  Half the public overall does not.

Trump supporters favor military action more than humanitarian action internationally, and a protectionist approach to the country’s borders.  That protectionist approach us shared by nearly all Trump supporters.  In March, 90% of them favored “a complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”  91% do today. 

94% of Trump’s supporters don’t think the United States should accept Syrian refugees who are Muslim – and 59% wouldn’t accept Syrian refugees who are Christian (most other Republicans and Democrats would).  88% would construct a wall along the border with Mexico, and 69% believe illegal immigrants now in the U.S. should be required to leave. 

The dangerous world seen by many Trump supporters is echoed in their thoughts about what is going on in the U.S., too.  Nearly half expect there will be fewer jobs in the next six months.  And Trump supporters are more worried than other Republican voters about losing their own jobs. 

The Trump campaign is capitalizing on the worries of its core supporters, a concern that nearly all of them have shared.  At the moment at least, these worries are not necessarily those of all voters, or even of all Republican voters.  Although 60% of Republican voters who did not support Trump currently say they would vote for him in November, many don’t agree with Trump on his signature issues.  They see a somewhat less dangerous world that he and his strongest supporters do. 


 Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here. 

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