In an extremely unusual election cycle, some have tried to explain the rise of the foul-mouthed billionaire Donald Trump and the curmudgeonly socialist-leaning Senator Bernie Sanders by pointing to their shared populism. It’s a heyday for populist outsiders, these political analysts argue, because average Americans have watched the rich come roaring back after the 2008 recession without seeing their own lives get any better.
There may be some truth to that, according to an informal survey of ZipRecruiter users.
More than 90 percent of those who said their favorite candidate was Donald Trump said they thought the U.S. economy was on the wrong track. Among Bernie supporters, more than half said they thought the country was on the wrong track economically.
Backers of Hillary Clinton — who’s playing the role of the establishment candidate despite vying to be the first female president in the nation’s 240-year history — have a very different view. Three quarters of them say the economy is on the right track.
But an older take on U.S. presidential elections also applies. That theory has it that the election boils down to a referendum on the current president. If voters like him, they vote for his party. If they don’t like him, they vote against his party.
And they like him or don’t based largely on whether the economy has improved or diminished during his time in office. Jobs and the economy were a top concern for would-be voters of all stripes in the ZipRecruiter survey.
For many voters the question, “Is the country on the right track economically?” boils down still farther to “Are your finances better or worse?”
If your bank account was more flush under Obama, you would be most likely to vote for Hillary, who served in his administration. You would be somewhat less likely to vote for Sanders, who shares a party affiliation — if somewhat tenuously — with Obama. You’d be much less likely to vote for the Republican Trump.
Curiously, in our poll it was Sanders supporters, not Trump supporters, who were most likely to be actively looking for work.
The survey results reveal that there are fundamental differences in political worldview between supporters of the three remaining candidates.
Yes, three-quarters of Trump supporters — compared to 1 in 5 respondents overall — think a border wall to keep Mexican immigrants out would help the U.S. economy more than investing the same money in job readiness programs for the unemployed.
But that stance may reflect, rather than explain, respondents’ support for Trump. Trump fans were also twice as likely as voters as a whole to say that immigration brings wages down for citizens, a contention both left- and right-leaning economists dispute.
The more compelling difference comes in answers to a number of questions that show that Trump supporters see business as the solution, while Sanders supporters see it as the problem. Clinton supporters mainly fall between the two extremes.
Here’s a litmus test question. Would you rather have free college or more affordable college?
Only among Bernie Sanders supporters did a majority prefer free to affordably priced. The Trump supporters were distrustful of free handouts, with 85 percent preferring regulations to limit the price of college to free college for all. Just over half of Clinton supporters also saw a more limited government role as the better alternative.
The same inclinations showed up when survey participants were asked whether raising the minimum wage — requiring companies to pay people more — was preferable to cutting taxes, or limiting how much the government gets from each paycheck.
Among survey respondents as a whole, over 60 percent thought the federal minimum wage should be raised. Among Trump supporters, only a third thought it should. Sanders supporters, answers were almost a mirror image. Three out of four said business had too much power.
Clinton’s backers sat predictably in the middle: Just over half said businesses had too much power.
The Trump supporters were more inclined to see government than corporations pony up, through tax cuts, to improve workers’ quality of life. Their answers hinted at a libertarian view of the federal government: Smaller and poorer is better. Four out of five thought government, rather than businesses, had too much power.
But even the Trump supporters, who were supportive of business overall, thought Wall Street and banks had too much influence. Four out of five said they thought Anger at Wall Street was still higher among respondents supporting Democrats. 95 percent of Sanders and Clinton supporters saw Wall Street as too powerful.
Two takeaways: Americans really are divided in their basic political leanings, but the chasm isn’t without a few bridges.
And while the success of Sanders and Trump at two extremes of the U.S. political spectrum may reveal an unusual degree of popular frustration this election, there is no common ideological cause between the two groups to be found in our survey results. Clinton seems far more likely to get their votes if the Berners vote according to their expressed political philosophies and not some personality X factor.