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Why Do (Some) Voters Still Like Trump?

If you are even slightly interested in politics and you spend a but of time each day thinking about the election coming up next year, at some point you have to ask yourself the following question: How does a guy who has been twice impeached, twice indicted with maybe more indictments to come continue to present himself as a viable candidate for an election to choose the next President of the United States?

You can’t tell me that all those people who show up at his rallies are just a bunch of no-good racist, white trash. I’m just not going to buy the idea that so many Americans are so friggin’ dumb.

I’m also not about to believe that anyone out there really believes that the economy is a mess, or that we’re about to be overrun by the border hordes, or that there’s really a Commie-Socialist-Pinko-faggot-woke-Soros conspiracy called the Deep State.

Sure, there are a couple of idiots like that floating around, although most of them have been indicted for running up tie Capitol steps and acting like complete assholes on January 6th. But we still need to figure out how a shithead like Trump managed to screw up everything between 2016 and 2020, yet still managed to get 12 million more people to vote for him the second time around.

And this question isn’t just some silly, little piece of political nothingness that I have nothing better to do than to throw around. Right now, Trump and Joe are more or less tied in the polls, which means that a lot of people out there still believe in that MAGA nonsense and may be willing to back up those beliefs at the 2024 voting booths.

Something of an answer to this vexing question is provided to two economists (Sendhil Mullainathan at the University of Chicago and Ebonya Washington at Columbia University) who published a paper with the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) which attempts to analyze what we call the voting behavior and cognitive dissonance syndrome which means voting for reasons other than what you really support or believe. It’s a long and detailed article but you can download it right here.

Basically, what the two scholars found by looking at results of multiple electoral contests, was that the way people vote is often determined by whether they voted for the same candidate in a previous election, because taking the trouble of showing up and casting a vote for a particular means that the voter in question will have a more favorable view of that candidate the next time around.

The degree to which a voter likes a particular candidate because that candidate previously received that individual’s vote will significantly influence whether the candidate will receive that individual’s vote again.

Note that this research tends to explain voting preferences not by whether the candidate’s position on various issues meets the way in which the voter thinks about those issues, but rather whether the voter will continue to support a particular candidate because he or she supported that candidate in the past.

In other words, Trump may have persuaded a lot of 2016 voters to vote for him because he was going to build a wall. But the fact that he didn’t build a wall with Mexico may not have cost him any 2020 votes at all.

Now the problem with this analysis, of course, is that we can’t use this argument to explain why Joe picked up 16 million more votes in 2020 than Hillary got in 2016. But Joe was a first-time Presidential candidate in 2020, so this NBER paper doesn’t really tell us whether cognitive dissonance will play a role in how many votes he receives in 2024. The paper was also published before mail-in ballots became so widespread, although it’s not clear that without a Pandemic whether voting by mail will continue to test the strengths and staff of the USPS.

It should be noted, incidentally, that Trump is now touting the idea that the GOP should encourage voting by mail in order to “beat the Democrats at their own game.”

The bottom line is that even though Trump lost the keys to the Oval Office in 2016, he continues to behave like an incumbent and his message that a 2024 vote for him will get him back to where he should have been after 2020 will resonate with voters whose behavior represents the kind of cognitive dissonance which the NBER scholars believe exists.

I’m not so sure that running for President as an indicted or convicted candidate is necessarily such a bad idea.

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