With Donald Trump’s surprise election in 2016, many commentators argue that the Republican Party is in the midst of a transformation. What is the nature of this transformation? Specifically, why are some Republicans loyal supporters of the president while others are vocal opponents? In a recent work, we explored the question “‘why did Republican lawmakers support or oppose Trump’s candidacy in the 2016 campaign?” During the campaign, there were diverse—and often contradictory—explanations of the #NeverTrump movement: (1) policy preferences, (2) identity, (3) electoral motivations, and (4) establishment dynamics.
We then tested these popular explanations by compiling data on every Republican member of Congress’s public position on Trump’s candidacy. In two analyses, we explored the direction of a lawmaker’s position (support Trump vs. oppose Trump) as well as the intensity of that position (based on the timing of their announcement). Our main finding is that two factors in the identity category best explain a lawmaker’s position on Trump’s candidacy. In particular, the strongest determinants of a Republican’s endorsement were their religion and sex. According to our results Mormon and female Republicans were more likely to oppose Trump’s while non-Mormon and male Republican were more likely to support Trump.
Notably, these findings dovetail with a number of studies on the behavior of voters in 2016. For example, recent work from Valentino, Wayne, and Oceno explores the role of gender in the 2016 election, finding that sexism was a key force in both the campaign and the decision to vote for Trump. Likewise, research by Mutz shows that issues threatening to white Americans’ played a key role in the election while a paper by Hooghe and Dassonneville finds effects of both racial resentment and anti-immigrant sentiment. In sum, while it is difficult to say whether Trump’s election is the beginning of a “new” Republican Party, as some have claimed, our results indicate that identity is at the center of Trump’s Republican support and opposition in Congress. If the GOP is indeed in the midst of a transformation, identity politics is likely to be a core dividing line between what the Republican Party that was, and what the Republican Party is becoming.
Jordan Ragusa – College of Charleston
Jordan Ragusa is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the College of Charleston.
Lauren Johnson – College of Charleston
Lauren Johnson is a senior at the College of Charleston double majoring in political science and music.
Deon McCray – College of Charleston
Deon McCray is a senior at the College of Charleston majoring in political science and accounting.
#NeverTrump: Why Republican members of Congress refused to support their party’s nominee in the 2016 presidential election
Lauren Johnson, Deon McCray, Jordan Ragusa
First Published January 11, 2018
An earlier version of the post has also been published with LSE USAPP