By Paul A. Djupe
It seems so obvious, except it’s not at all. To just over half of America, Trump is a menace whose narcissism, pettiness, and incompetence are partly to blame for the spread of the coronavirus being much greater than it might have otherwise been (America is #1!). But, to just under half of America, Trump is seen as doing a good job, representing with straight talk points of view that have been long neglected. It has been a terrible struggle, but I’ve learned not to assume that my view is the public’s view, especially now.
We at 127 don’t have access to data from you once the virus hit and campus closed, but we do have your approval of Trump’s job as of the beginning of March. If there’s anything the last 4 years have shown us it is that Trump’s approval rating really hasn’t budged. So, where are we? From our polling throughout Trump’s presidency, we find that his approval ratings dipped through the first year but then rebounded in the second and have continued to climb. As of March 1, 18.6 percent of Denisonians approve of the job Donald Trump is doing – the highest yet.
When American politics is so deeply polarized, even on campus, we naturally presume that partisan attitudes are rock solid, immovable, immune to facts. We didn’t experiment with facts, but we did experiment with the inclusion of a “not sure” response option in the approval question. Half of the sample was assigned to each and as the following figure shows, disapproval did not change (much) across the two versions, but approval did. Trump’s approval dropped almost 7 points, suggesting that a good chunk of his support is tentative or soft. That’s interesting because the social norm on campus would probably be to disapprove. Perhaps Republicans have their own group norm that some are tentative about, when able to express it.
That interpretation gains steam when we look at how people feel about Trump given their partisanship. Typically, presidents enjoy very strong warm/positive feelings from their fellow partisans. We asked about this with a feeling thermometer where 0 is cold/negative and 100 is warm/positive. The campus average is a 19 – pretty low – but that number varies quite a bit by students’ partisan leanings. Democrats are united in their strong dislike of Trump (single digit scores – 2 and 5), but the same cannot be said for Republicans. Strong Republicans average a 91, but Republicans average just a 67. Those who lean Republican, who tend to behave much like strong partisans, are solidly in tierra fria with a 37.
Does this represent a growing number of Republicans on campus? Or are opinions on Trump just polarizing over time on campus? Let’s do one more graph just for old time’s sake. The data from waaay back to 2010 suggest that Republicans are not growing on campus and partisanship has been relatively stable across the last half decade with just about three-fifths Democrats and a fifth each of Republicans and independents. Given the recent flip so that more educated voters line up for Democrats, not to mention the conservative campaign against higher education, I don’t see this pattern changing any time soon.
One way to read this evidence is that polarization on campus is allowing partisans to have attitudes more inline with their partisanship. Put another way, Republicans may be somewhat more segregated now than before which insulates them from the majority of Democrats. One consequence could be more approval of Trump. We’ll have a post coming about self-censorship that tackles this issue head on. In the meantime, hang in there, stay social, check in on each other.
Paul A. Djupe is a local cyclist who has been corona’d into riding in the basement, but has also taught social science research methods at Denison for millenia. He started onetwentyseven.blog a few years ago so we could stop guessing and know ourselves better.