The Trump Paradox: Unveiling the Enigma of the Former President’s Popularity

    Donald Trump’s legal troubles continue to escalate. The former president faces three new criminal cases, ranging fromfraud to illegal seizure of state secrets and election interference. Moreover, an investigation is open about suspicions of election manipulation in the state of Georgia.

    Trump’s Strategy Seems to be Working

    Trump pushes back, labelling these lawsuits as the “deep state,” “witch hunt”, and “persecution“. At the Georgia GOP convention, he even claimed, “Our enemies are dying to stop us because they know we are the only ones who can stop them.” Meanwhile, prominent Republicans refrain from confronting Trump’s allegations, especially since he maintainsthat rejecting him would help the Democrats win.

    Trump’s strategy seems to be working. According to the Sienna College poll conducted in July, 54% of Republican voters prefer Trump. His closest rival, DeSantis, has garnered the support of only 17% of the voters. No other candidate in the poll has managed to surpass 3% support. The poll also reveals that Trump leads in almost every demographic group and region. Moreover, only 19% of the voters consider Trump guilty of the post-2020 election events. 

    What is the reason for Trump’s continued popularity? 

    Trump’s tactics are divisive. His discourse has split conservatives into two camps. Conversely, he has brought a fresh perspective to domestic politics. Meanwhile, many observers struggle to explain his political longevity, considering the countless controversies he fueled and his ongoing legal challenges.

    First, Trump generates not only sympathy but also likes to fuel antagonism as an effective political strategy, challenging political norms and generating assertive statements. This approach earns him unparalleled visibility. 

    This strategy also works because political moderation is declining in the US. According to Gallup’s political ideology trend, the ratio of socially conservative people rose from 33% last year to 38%. This percentage is the highest attainedsince 2012. Likewise, 44% of Americans say they are economically conservative, the highest level since 2012. 

    Looking at Gallup’s annual report once again, it is evident that within the framework of Democrats and Republicans, political moderation is not fashionable. In this context, Trump’s aggressive rhetorics align with and accentuate the polarisation among his voters. 

    Besides rhetorics, Trump has also proven adept at establishing an organic connection with his voters. According to a 2020 study by Griebie and Immelman, which examines Trump’s presidency within the context of his personality, Donald Trump has been characterised as a leader with bold, ambitious/exploitative (a measure of narcissism), combative, extroverted/impulsive, and dominant personality traits. These personality features highlight his ability to arouse people, engage with them, and lead them. 

    How have Trump supporters identified themselves with their leader? 

    Setting aside Trump’s leadership style, one must examine the profile of Trump’s voter base to gain more understanding of the dynamics at play. If one takes on board the personality traits from Griebie and Immelman’s study and creates a parallel with sports, many insights can be gained. 

    For example, the NFL, which stands for American football, is the most popular sport in the United States. 44% of the American population of all political and ethnic backgrounds considers the NFL their favourite sport. A study examined how voters who love this sport displayed particular characteristics. While 58% of Democrats believe the game should be cancelled if a player gets injured in American football, 64% of Republicans answered that the game should continue. Such passion and commitment are also reflected in how Republicans still support Trump despite his loss and legal troubles.

    So, essentially, what sets Trump apart from other Republican candidates and forms a deeper bond with his voters is not just the typical political reasons like profound ideological views or grand economic plans but the idea of emotional identification with their leader.

    This bond with voters can also be explained through social media. Trump is a master in the use of social media platforms. Before the 2020 elections, Donald Trump allocated 47.30% of his total advertising expenditure, or $201,460,242 out of the total $426,263,134, to social media. 

    Besides spending, another significant point is Trump’s discourse on social media. Trump skillfully played the “man of the people” card, using their language and removing political correctness from the public sphere.

    In a report analysing the January 6th Capitol protests, I examined 241 Facebook posts from Donald Trump’s account and 150 from Joe Biden’s account. It was staggering to observe that Joe Biden’s posts were well-constructed, grammatically sound. Conversely, Trump shared posts even late at night, not bothering with typos and grammaticalerrors.

    From this perspective, Trump appears more integrated with his supporters, presenting a clearer ‘self’ by sharing content aligned with his followers’ preferences. 

    It is also evident that the grassroots adhered to Trump’s America First policy, even if it has received substantialcriticism from the elites. The most crucial problems for voters, both Republicans and Democrats alike, include inflation and access to healthcare services. They do not bother themselves with perceptions of isolationism and similar sophisticated concepts.

    Considering all these facts, it is unsurprising that Trump remains the strongest Republican candidate. The only obstacle standing in the way of his re-election is navigating the legal process. Meanwhile, Trump remains an irreducible number in the American political equation.

    This article originally appeared in the opinion section of the website SCMP.

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