Daily Dose: Really listening to Trump supporters is necessary to winning elections

August 23, 2017


As progressives, we all have the same knee-jerk response to someone who is a Trump supporter. They are all racists, idiots, gullible sheep, and hate mongers. But are they? Of course not. Remember, there are a lot of people (even in Wisconsin) who voted for Obama twice, only to have voted for Trump in 2016. The truth that must be addressed by progressives and Democrats before the next election is that the average Trump supporter is not the in-your-face skinhead nazi or klansmen. Those are the extreme cases. The truth is, progressives and Democrats are guilty of a cognitive bias in how we perceive ALL Trump voters. This bias is known as "salient exemplar", and it is undermining our ability to connect with people, and win back votes.


"Salient exemplar" is incredibly effective. It creates a memorable connection between extreme behavior and how we WANT to perceive a group of people or person which fits our frame, and forms a very difficult to overcome stereotype. An extremely effective example of the salient exemplar bias, which unfortunately endures today, was Reagan's application of the term "Welfare Queen" to extreme and rare cases of welfare system abuse. It is effective with conservative Republicans because it fits their frame (worldview). As progressives, we owe it to ourselves to learn something from science, and accept that we have a "salient exemplar" bias when we encounter anyone who is a Trump supporter. 


Really listening beyond the rhetoric (and beyond our own biases) provides great insight into the actual moral system at work in the minds of Trump supporters. And how we can connect with them through our progressive system based on empathy. The Guardian interviewed nine people at the Trump rally in Phoenix. Four are women, one is a female California college student (biology), one is a male student who's father is African-American and mother is Japanese, one is a male Vietnam vet who has Parkinson's and must use a wheelchair,  and one man lives on Social Security while caring for his wife who has Alzheimer's. These could be people in our communities, or our relatives - and these are the people we must connect with if we are to win elections again. So what are they really saying?


First, each of them believes strongly in Trump as a moral (their conservative moral system) leader. Thus, it makes it easy for them to "overlook" what progressives consider to be serious personal problems. 


Next, each of them believes that government (and anyone who is a career public servant or politician) is immoral, and is the root of all of this nation's problems. It doesn't care about them, their community, or people like them. Government exists only to trample on people's personal liberty - whether it's money, guns, property, or beliefs. 


They also believe that government is responsible for making people lazy and dependent, instead of disciplined and self-reliant. Progressives and Democrats always underestimate how powerful this worldview is! 


Relative to the above belief is the strong view that "liberals" everywhere - academia, the media, organizations, politicians, Hollywood - are arrogant and elitist, and look down their noses at real, working people like them. These Trump supporters are sick of the "liberal elite" (a phrase first coined by Nixon) telling them how to live their lives. Again, this is a very powerful worldview - one which Democrats often reinforce very well!


Finally, one of the most important worldviews these Trump supporters share is that they are afraid for their future. They believe in the concept of "self-reliance" and that discipline leads to success. And they accept an authoritarian construct to lead this nation out of the darkness through discipline, and therefore, prosperity. Remember, this authoritarian worldview is one that functions through a moral hierarchy which puts the US over other nations, and more. So they view a brighter future through a lens of "people like them" first - where Trump has promised to place them. 


These strong, conservative frame ideas are consistent with every Trump supporter. And they are also the dominant frame in public discourse - even in the so-called "liberal media"! 


If progressives and Democrats are to win elections into the future, we must connect with these people in OUR moral system based on empathy. The good news is that the vast majority of people have the capacity for empathy, The bad news is that for the average Trump supporter like these people, it is suppressed, and needs to be activated.


Tomorrow - how we activate empathy in the average Trump supporter!