The tone and tenor of the 2016 election and the increasingly charged ideological debate in the United States have left many Americans feeling disconnected and disoriented. To bring our country together and move beyond divisive rhetoric, we need to better understand the anxieties that people are experiencing. Stranger in my Own Country is the first in a series of studies seeking to better understand the factors that are motivating nativism, racism, and other cultural anxieties among the American electorate.
The findings in this study are the product of in-depth interviews, a national public opinion survey, and message testing carried out by a group of Republican-led researchers in the fall of 2016 as a part of an effort to better understand the attitudes driving the behavior of supporters of Donald Trump.
Our preliminary findings revealed deep cultural anxiety around four themes:
- Americanism: Fear of losing core, defining values that make America unique.
- Race: Fear that demographic change is weakening community ties and excluding people.
- Immigration: Fear of losing control of our borders and endangering ourselves.
- Islam: Fear of letting people into the country who are hostile to America.
Our findings suggest that the recent rise in populism and nativism among voters is driven by feelings of disaffection and alienation from America’s core institutions and culture. These voters feel disconnected from government, community, and a “new” America they aren’t comfortable with. However, the research offers hope that targeted messages on pride and unity in America can create significant movement in key attitudes among these voters that may help fewer Americans feel like strangers in their own country.
Our research team included:
- PROJECT LEAD: Mindy Finn, Civic entrepreneur, former strategist for the RNC, NRSC, Mitt Romney, and George W. Bush;
- RESEARCH LEAD: Alex Lundry, co-founder and Chief Data Scientist at Deep Root Analytics, and ran analytics for Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush;
- PROJECT ASSOCIATE: Kelsey Jarrett, former member of the Google+ Political Partnerships Team, former digital strategist for the NRSC and the RNC;
- RESEARCHERS: Lisa Dropkin, Stacia Tipton and Karen Emmerson at Edge Research; Patrick Ruffini and Kristen Soltis Anderson at Echelon Insights; and Emily Ekins at the Cato Institute
The initial findings described here are the product of three pieces of research focused on the attitudes of strong supporters of now President Donald Trump during the 2016 election cycle. First, hour-long, in-depth interviews were conducted by Edge Research with voters in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Then, a national survey was conducted by Echelon Insights that oversampled whites without a college degree was used to quantify attitudes observed in the earlier interviews. Finally, researchers from the Cato Institute tested how voters respond to digital and print media to see what kinds of messages could impact attitudes towards Muslim Americans.
The results conveyed in this presentation are by no means definitive, but rather the first step in our effort to understand the current positions of the electorate. Over the coming months, Democracy Fund Voice will continue to ask difficult questions and support the efforts of researchers and leaders across the political spectrum to engage with voters in ways that address underlying anxieties, frustrations, and concerns, resulting in greater unity and understanding among an increasingly diverse America.